9/11 Panel Members Weren’t Told of Meeting
By PHILIP SHENON
York Times" -- -- WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 — Members of
the Sept. 11 commission said today that they were alarmed that
they were told nothing about a White House meeting in July 2001
at which George J. Tenet, then the director of central
intelligence, is reported to have warned Condoleezza Rice, then
the national security adviser, about an imminent Al Qaeda attack
and failed to persuade her to take action.
Details of the previously undisclosed meeting on July 10, 2001,
two months before the Sept. 11 terror attacks, were first
reported last week in a new book by the journalist Bob Woodward.
The final report from the Sept. 11 commission made no mention of
the meeting nor did it suggest there had been such an encounter
between Mr. Tenet and Ms. Rice, now secretary of state.
Since release of the book, “State of Denial,” the White House
and Ms. Rice have disputed major elements of Mr. Woodward’s
account, with Ms. Rice insisting through spokesmen that there
had been no such exchange in a private meeting with Mr. Tenet
and that he had expressed none of the frustration attributed to
him in Mr. Woodward’s book.
“It really didn’t match Secretary Rice’s recollection of the
meeting at all,” said Dan Bartlett, counselor to President Bush,
in an interview on the CBS News program “Face the Nation.”
“It kind of left us scratching our heads because we don’t
believe that’s an accurate account,” he said.
Although passages of the book suggest that Mr. Tenet was a major
source for Mr. Woodward, the former intelligence director has
refused to comment on the book.
Nor has there been any comment from J. Cofer Black, Mr. Tenet’s
counterterrorism chief, who is reported in the book to have
attended the July 10 meeting and left it frustrated by Ms.
Rice’s “brush-off” of the warnings.
He is quoted as saying, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull
the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” Mr. Black
did not return calls left at the security firm Blackwater, which
he joined last year.
The book says that Mr. Tenet hurriedly organized the meeting —
calling ahead from his car as it traveled to the White House —
because he wanted to “shake Rice” into persuading the president
to respond to dire intelligence warnings that summer about a
terrorist strike. Mr. Woodward writes that Mr. Tenet left the
meeting frustrated because “they were not getting through to
The disclosures took members of the bipartisan Sept. 11
commission by surprise last week. Some questioned whether
information about the July 10 meeting was intentionally withheld
from the panel.
In interviews Saturday and today, commission members said they
were never told about the meeting despite hours of public and
private questioning with Ms. Rice, Mr. Tenet and Mr. Black, much
of it focused specifically on how the White House had dealt with
terrorist threats in the summer of 2001.
“None of this was shared with us in hours of private interviews,
including interviews under oath, nor do we have any paper on
this,” said Timothy J. Roemer, a Democratic member of the
commission and a former House member from Indiana. “I’m deeply
disturbed by this. I’m furious.”
Another Democratic commissioner, former Watergate prosecutor
Richard Ben-Veniste, said that the staff of the Sept. 11
commission was polled in recent days on the disclosures in Mr.
Woodward’s book and agreed that the meeting “was never mentioned
“This is certainly something we would have wanted to know
about,” he said, referring to the July 10, 2001, meeting.
He said he had attended the commission’s private interviews with
both Mr. Tenet and Ms. Rice and had pressed “very hard for them
to provide us with everything they had regarding conversations
with the executive branch” about terrorist threats before the
Sept. 11 attacks.
Philip D. Zelikow, the executive director of the Sept. 11
commission and now a top aide to Ms. Rice at the State
Department, agreed that no witness before the commission had
drawn attention to a July 10 meeting at the White House, nor
described the sort of encounter portrayed in Mr. Woodward’s
Mr. Zelikow said that it was “entirely plausible” that a meeting
occurred on July 10, during a period that summer in which
intelligence agencies were being flooded with warnings of a
terrorist attack against the United States or its allies.
But he said the commissioners and their staff had heard nothing
in their private interviews with Mr. Tenet and Mr. Black to
suggest that they had made such a dire presentation to Ms. Rice
or that she had rebuffed them.
“If we had heard something that drew our attention to this
meeting, it would have been a huge thing,” he said. “Repeatedly
Tenet and Black said they could not remember what had transpired
in some of those meetings.”
Democratic lawmakers have seized on Mr. Woodward’s book in
arguing that the Bush administration bungled the war in Iraq and
paid too little attention to terrorist threats in the months
before Sept. 11.
Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the senior Democrat on
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on “Face the
Nation” on CBS that there had been “rumors” of such an encounter
between Mr. Tenet and Ms. Rice in the summer of 2001.
Mr. Woodward’s book, he said, raised the question of “why didn’t
Condi Rice and George Tenet tell the 9/11 commission about that?
They were obliged to do that and they didn’t.”
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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