You are on page 1of 11

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

Internal Transcript

August 6, 2002

INTERVIEW OF NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR CONDOLEEZZA RICE BY TERRY MORAN OF ABC

RECEIVED

JUN . 7 2003

National Commissionon erronstAttacks

Vice President's Ceremonial Office

4:56 P.M. EDT

Q September

llth,

the President

is

in Florida,

the

Secretary of State is in South America.

Security Advisor, what was your day shaping up like?

As

the National

I

done my

intelligence briefing and I was standing at the desk getting

to my senior staff meeting, and my executive

DR. RICE:

up

My day was shaping up as a fairly normal day.

I went

into the office,

I had

got

that morning,

ready to go down

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,

describe the mood of the American people when threat of terrorist attacks in the United States?

how would you it came to the

That morning when Americans woke up I believe

they knew that the threat of terrorism was there, but associated

Americans knew that there had been a

bombing of an American ship, the Cole. They knew that the

had been bombed.

Terrorism had been a part of the American experience, of course.

American embassies in Tanzania

DR. RICE:

it with terrorism abroad.

and Kenya

425

And then, of course, we had the domestic terrorist incident in

Oklahoma City.

one

associated terrorism with the kind of dramatic, mass casualty event that we experienced.

probably until that morning, on September

It had all been a part of our experience, but

llth,

no

Q If you'd thought that first plane that-hit the first

tower was an accident, why did you call the President?

Because if the President of the United States is

in the

United States, it's important for him to know.

of things so that he isn't told first by the

But it was

And what was different about that

moment was that nobody could be certain, there seemed to be some

press that a plane has hit the World Trade Center.

DR. RICE:

out of the White House and something bad has happened

him those sorts

kind of normal procedure.

Frankly, we tell

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 retrospect, that was a tip.

fire for a small plane.

And in

Q And did you have any hunch at that point that it might

be terrorism?

that it

might be terrorism.

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

We knew that

DR. RICE:

It just didn't come to mind immediately

We knew a lot about al Qaeda.

chatter in terrorist channels.

all of it was pointing abroad, that there was going

kind of attack abroad.

But most of it was pointing

to be some

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.

hit, though, it came together very, very quickly.

When the second plane

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

-- And he went

it sounds like a

then off to

on

terrible accident; keep me informed. --

begin his event in

the education

event that he had going

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

something

And there's a picture that I

hit

the World Trade

Center, and

I believe

he

said

like, America is under attack.

426

will never forget of the President's face when he was told that.

The remarkable thing is he

graders, and then left and got ready to try and come back.

finished reading to these third-

Q That picture is etched in American memory now.

You

What do you see

know him so well, you know that face so well.

in him at that moment?

DR. RICE:

could this be.

At that moment, I saw a sense of horror, really, And I suspect that right after that moment, his

But

made a

this, and then I

mind had to have been racing to think about what to do.

he's an amazingly disciplined person

decision

that he was going to stop,

and

he

finish

clearly

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.

event.

Secretary of Education knew what had happened.

You're going to have to carry this And it wasn't until later that the

The President

And then he left.

was—that calm.

Q Let me go back to how you found out about the second

plane. You went to the Situation Room.

DR. RICE:

I went to my staff meeting, which is held in the

I was going

on their

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.

in mid-

I knew that this was a

And senior

part of the world, something we do every day.

conference room within the Situation Room.

around asking each of my senior directors to report

And

staff members

have said

that

I stopped

sentence and said, I have to go.

terrorist attack.

Because

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

me and

worried me, given the fact of terrorism that has been a problem

in Colombia.

I was trying

to find Don Rumsfeld.

to me like it's a very

short period of time until I turned around and saw on television

I now know I was doing

that some period of time actually elapsed while

that, but the human brain sort of shortens that period of time.

first

thought he was

in Colombia, and

that concerned

I then tried to find George Tenet; I wanted to

And in that moment, when I was trying to

In retrospect,

find my own counterterrorism person, Dick Clark.

make all those phone calls, it seems

.that a plane had hit the Pentagon.

427

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

for the

There may be a

There are a lot of planes

And I

the

He'd gone to the

I said, Mr. President, you

Secret Service came and

bunker.

said, you have to leave now

properly.

President,

The Vice President is already there.

to

the

^plane headed for the White House.

I made

a phone

call

that are in the air that are not responding

stopped and

and

President now had left the event in Florida.

airport.

He said, I'm coming back.

may not want to do that.

people had whispered

-- in my ear, he can't come back here.

My Defense

one of my

Defense

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

the

President

same thing, you can't come back here.

on the phone and the Vice President was "saying

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.

Q And he started back, right?

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

no having him land at Andrews Air Force Base would have been a very bad thing.

doubt that

DR. RICE:

He ended up deciding that he

But

there was

first video contact with him.

Q

Why?

Why didn't

the President come

home,

back

to

Washington, and take charge of the government?

to worry about the It's very clear

clear that they

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.

were going for symbols of power and for the .seats of power.

that moment, you have

DR. RICE:

At

continuity of the United States government.

that Washington was under attack.

It's very

The President has to be protected at that moment. --

We spent

a small

a large fortune during the period of the Cold War

428

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

Who's there when you get

your office and down into the bunker. there?

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

were

still in the air, how many were responding properly, which ones

were not responding properly.

DR. RICE:

that moment was to try and get some read on how many planes

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

you think, Osama bin taden?

these attacks did

DR. RICE:

I

It was not immediately that I thought Osama bin

by

But it receded rather

so much to worry —

was

it was

later in the day at the NSC meeting that George

Laden.

conditioning, because we knew al Qaeda.

did

think just

in

a

flash, al

Qaeda,

just

quickly because

to

try

there was so much to do and

a

case

right at

about, and it wasn't the sort of thing that you

going

dealing with the consequences. But it was not long

a little bit

Tenet

walks like al Qaeda, it quacks like al Qaeda, it's probably al

Qaeda.

said, we think it's al Qaeda, it smells like al Qaeda, it

you weren't

It

to make

that moment. "

--

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?

429

Well, it's just a conference --

place where you can talk and watch TV and all of those things.

room, you know,

with other things there. And

DR. RICE:

it's

the conference room is a

I remember being

the trouble of finding food for us, at some moment during that

time. Somebody

struck by the fact that somebody had gone to

But the

was trying to attend to our needs.

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

Everybody sat

and did their work.

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.-

about that scene was that it was not panicked.

There were a lot of support people around,

the country watched those events

unfold, one of the emotions that people felt_was fear. Were you

afraid at all that morning?

Q As people around

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

see these pictures on television and the Rays and

I didn't have time to be afraid.

DR. RICE:

they would

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?

I just remember seeing the horror of it, and it

just collapses and there's all of this dust and smoke and people

But I

were still trying to

deal with the consequences. We were still, by this time, trying

statement to the

nation. You just have to keep plowing through.

DR. RICE:

-- didn't really have time to react to it.

running.

And I

yes, the horror of it registered.

We

President to make

a

to

get

ready

for

the

Q At one point that morning, the President gave an order

to the Combat Air Patrol pilots giving them permission to shoot

that decision come

about, and how did you take on board the gravity of that decision?

down U.S. commercial airliners.

How did

430

The President did give the order to shoot down a

And it was

authority through channels by Secretary Rumsfeld, and the Vice

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

And it turned out to be difficult to find out because a lot was

going on at the Pentagon by now, and we were question, did an American pilot report

civilian aircraft. And for what seemed like an endless period

of time, we couldn't get an answer to that question.

for those horrible minutes, you thought that maybe this plane had been shot down.

trying to ask the engagement with a

DR. RICE:

civilian plane if it was not responding properly.

President passed the request, the President said yes.

whether it had gone down by the hand of an American pilot.

And so,

When we learned later that it had not been shot down, but

that

rather than let it fly_ into another building,- it was quite a

And I just remember thinking what an awesome feat these

And you- wonder at that time, could you

shock.

it had

been driven into the ground

by

the

passengers,

people had engaged in.

ever have mustered mustered.

the courage that

the people on

Flight 93

Q But for a time _ there was a real possibility that ±he

order the President had given had resulted in the shooting down

It didn't turn out to be that

Did you

of this U.S. commercial plane.

way, but how pause at all?

did that affect you in your conscience? _

I think

the Vice

-- kept saying, did an American pilot engage a civilian aircraft.

You must know if an American pilot engaged a civilian aircraft;

And I think that was

was

associated with the enormity of getting that answer, that maybe an American pilot had brought down a civilian aircraft.

DR. RICE:

That possibility was really horrible. --

and

I know

the reason that we kept asking President kept asking, too

they would have reported back.

the

only

time that

the

we were there together and we

Did they?

kind of desperation

to

know

Q 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

respond to this attack?

among the principals who were prepared to

the mood

431

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. that day.

I marvel at his focus

And we sat down, and the President said, first of all, let

to get

And then he

And

he said it in a way that it was pretty clear that there -was no

arguing with him this time. going to come back.

that he was

me

tell you that whoever

did this to us, we're going

Don, you get ready.

them.

George, you get ready.

said, and I'll be J3ack tonight.

I'm coming back tonight.

He made up his mind

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

it's his favorite phrase,

clearly in his mind that the most important thing that he could

to also make

had

knew that

And

he

let's get

after it.

do

that night was

to reassure

the country, but

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.

432

Q To what do you attribute that? This was a relatively

untested President, who

attack, had this demeanor. Where did he get that?

in the face of this

crisis and this

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,

around him

comfortable and ready -to go.

I mean, he sort of takes it on

DR. RICE:

that

feels

he,

himself, has

to

make

others

himself to bring up the morale of others around him.

And there

was some of that that night, too, with the National team, pulling the team together.

Security

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

wasn't

for being

resilient and resolute.

I

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

see hesitancy in

we'll get the folks who did this, and some

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?

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

And

draf t for him to see when he cam e back -to the Whit e House. there were a couple of policy decisions that had to be made

DR. RICE:

The President's address

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 --

And that

was probably the most important policy decision that night

that in the first real statement about what we had ahead of us,

those who

we clearly decided that we were

how global would it sound.

attack on values. He also

going to have to worry about the issue of sanctuary.

that we would harbored them.

say

that it was

the terrorists and

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

You could have just said, we will get the terrorists.

that harbored terrorists.

433

Q Did you get any sleep that night?

I stayed at a false alarm

the White House that night.

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

DR. RICE:

I got very little sleep that night.

We,

in fact, had

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

And everybody sort of milled

And then the President said, I'm going to

And he headed off, and we all sort of headed off down the

thought, what's going on here.

around for a while.

bed.

hallway behind him. It was a very strange little scene.

I was asked to stay here that night because Service didn't

I spent the night in the White I got up the next morning and

really think I ought to go home. House; I didn't sleep very much. got gcdng.

finally did get

some sleep, and since then, have you ever lain awake at night

and thought, did we do everything we could? this coming and done more to stop it?

Could we have seen

Q A couple final- questions.

When you

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 information

that we had, we acted in the way that we thought best for the

I don't believe that anything that could have been

llth would have

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.

DR. RICE:

the experiences that we had, have had, given

country.

done in those months running up to September

forestalled this attack.

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

So, of course, you

ask that question.

But this administration, and I believe

It's also the case that this is an organization

the way that we did before September llth.

434

everybody who dealt with al Qaeda before us did what we could to try and protect the American people.

We now know

how they used our openness and our generosity to attack us. And

We now know more about our vulnerabilities.

so we're responding

transformed world from where we were on September 10th.

to

that

world,

which

is

a thoroughly

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 --

Q Last question:

When you look back

its

for you?

the awesomeness of that day and the significance of it

evokes the

awesomeness of that day is the President giving that address to

the nation. I'm a student of international history, and

the address to

the nation is,

American Presidents responding to crises.

DR. RICE:

The image that probably

for

And

me

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

Those are defining moments

people at the time of the Gulf War.

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.

thinking that that moment

when the President addressed the nation would mark a crack in

time for the United States and the way ourselves.

thought about

And that

night, I do remember

that we

Q Thank you.

END

5:23 P.M. EDT

435