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THE WHITE HOUSE DC f*C t\ifr\l V t U

Office of the Press Secretary

JUN . 7 2003
Internal Transcript September 3, 2 0 ^jona| commission on
Terrorist Attacks


Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building

12:26 P.M. EOT

Q Condoleezza Rice, you've described September 11 as a

day when the darkly possible became a horrific reality for
America and for the rest of the world, a day no doubt that's
scorched in your mind. What were you doing when you got the
news, and how did it hit you?

DR. RICE: It's one of those days that most people in the
world will always remember precisely what they were doing. I was
standing at my desk in the West Wing of the White House, getting
ready to go down to my meeting with my senior staff. And my
executive assistant came in and said, a p~lane has hit the World
Trade Center. And I thought, what a strange accident.

And so I called the President, who was at an education event

in Florida, and he said the -same thing, what a strange accident.
A little later on I went down to my senior staff meeting,... and. the
executive assistant handed me a note and it said a second plane
had hit the World Trade Center. And I thought, my God, this is a
terrorist attack.

And the next few hours are like a blur. I remember going
into the Situation Support Room to try to reach the National
Security Council principals, to get them together, and turning
around, and there was a picture on television of a plane having
hit the Pentagon.

Q So you had no inkling of what was -- of those other

elements that were involved?

DR. RICE: No. And for several hours, the most difficult
thing is that we didn't know what else was coming, because there
were planes still in the air, we were trying to ground civil
aviation, there were still planes in the air. Some were
supposedly not responding properly to a command to go to the
ground. So it was a very tense environment.

Q Moments of great human tragedy often strike with a
great sense of unreality. Did you feel that you were operating
in an environment of unreality?

DR. RICE: I certainly felt that I was operating in an

environment of unreality. I'm a specialist in international
politics. I've done dozens of simulations of crisis and war. I
worked for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I've been on the National
Security Council before. You go through crisis simulations in
which something awful happens and you have to manage it.

Q But it's never the same.

DR. RICE: But it's never the same. And I have to admit
that I felt a bit like I was floating out of my own body,
watching some of this. And as I got down to the bunker -- when
the plane hit the Pentagon, the Secret Service came in and they
said, there is a plane headed for the White House, we believe
you have to go to the bunker. The Vice President is already
there. And when I got there, and saw the Vice President, I
started to do the things that you have to do to manage a crisis.
But I have to say that it ""still seems like an experience that
happened to someone else.

Q _ It must have been a particularly deep shock when the

most powerful military machine that the world has ever seen was
struck at its heart.

DR. RICE: We learned something very important. First of

all, the United States, for most of its history, has thought of
its home territory as largely invulnerable. We are protected by
great oceans on—both sides, we have peaceful neighbors to the
north and to the south. And so ourown vulnerability, born
really of our openness -- what these people did was to take
advantage of the fact that we're a generous nation that welcomes
people from all of the world, o f - n o t having been accustomed to
protecting our borders or airport security of the kind that many
other countries have always employed because of threats. So it
was first and foremost a shock that we were so vulnerable.

'It was secondly, of course, a shock that people using means

that cost them, as the President has said, less than the cost of
a single tank, could inflict such danger. And, third, it was a
surprise. And though we knew a great deal about al Qaeda, we
knew that they were trying to hurt us, it was still a surprise
how they did it. And it's an important warning to all of us that
surprise is always a factor in major attacks, no matter how well
prepared you may think you are.

Q This did happen on your watch as National Security —

Advisor. Have you taken any of that personally? Have you
allowed it to affect you personally?

DR. RICE: I can't allow it to affect me personally. But of
course you can't but help it affect you in the great devastation
that was there, the loss of life. People have asked me, is there
more that you think you could have done to prevent such an
attack. We were really hotly trying to pursue al Qaeda. The
Clinton administration had been hotly trying to pursue al Qaeda.
But the truth of the matter is that we all thought that anything
that we might be able to do to really eliminate al Qaeda was
going to take three to five years.
And so I think it's unlikely that we could have prevented
September llth. But of course you look back and you wonder what
more could have been done.
Q You acted quickly in Afghanistan. But when do you
think that job will be complete?
DR. RICE: The President, when he addressed the U.S.
Congress on September 20th, just a few days after the attack,
told the American people to expect a long_war.
Q I'm talking specifically about Afghanistan.-

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