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Family Views

April 9, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: And it was pressure from family members of the Sept. 11 victims that was most responsible for the creation of the 9/11 commission. To discuss national security adviser Condoleezza Rice’s testimony yesterday and the work of the commission so far, we turn to: Stephen Push, co-founder of the Families of September 11, a group representing victims’ families. His wife died on the plane that struck the Pentagon. And Patty Casazza, one of the so-called “Jersey Girls,” a group of women whose husbands died in the World Trade Center; she is also a member of the family steering committee which has been monitoring the commission’s work.

Both of our guests were in the hearing room yesterday for Rice’s testimony. Welcome to you both. Patti Casazza, what did you make of Condoleezza Rice’s testimony? Did she answer the questions you had?

PATTY CASAZZA: No, not really. I had hoped that I would learn new information from Condoleezza Rice, but really what she had said in previous interviews was pretty much what she said yesterday. So I had hoped she would touch on new information and show us how we can better protect this nation going forward.

I found her very defensive and really, until we let down our defenses and realize we had failures on that day, I really don’t think we are going to be able to move forward and discuss the issues honestly and actually work on policies going forward that will prevent an attack of this nature going forward.

MARGARET WARNER: Stephen Push, what was your assessment?

STEPHEN PUSH: Well, I did agree with Dr. Rice when she asserted that the problem of 9/11 was a bureaucratic problem that the Bush administration inherited from previous administrations. This has been a longstanding problem.

Where I think she wasn’t convincing is when she said that prior to 9/11 the Bush administration did everything it possibly could to counter terrorism. I was much more convinced by Richard Clarke’s testimony where he suggested that the Bush administration didn’t put a high enough priority on counterterrorism.

MARGARET WARNER: Miss Casazza, let’s broaden this out a little bit — because you all have looked, watched a lot of this testimony — and there have been some very high ranking current and former officials who have come out in the public sessions. How forthcoming in general do you think they’ve been?

PATTY CASAZZA: In general, I think that they have been towing the party line. They haven’t admitted, you know, to the public any of the errors going forward. I didn’t hear Condoleezza Rice say that she had done anything wrong or would have done anything differently — much the same from the other people who testified.

MARGARET WARNER: I’m thinking of, look back to a couple weeks ago whether it was Donald Rumsfeld or Bill Cohen, the former secretary of defense, or Sandy Berger, the former national security adviser in the Clinton administration, I mean, have what they said publicly moved you any further along to the question that drove all of you, which was why did this happen?

PATTY CASAZZA: No, because I mean we had Donald Rumsfeld tell us that, you know, our defenses were still looking outward in a Cold War posture when we’ve had prior attacks by an al-Qaida terrorist group who is very elusive and moving all the time. I would have expected that they would have looked at the nation’s defenses as well. We were attacked here in 1993. They should have been following al-Qaida in the intelligence agencies and if the military defensive posture was needed within the United States, I would have thought that one would have been set up by now.

MARGARET WARNER: What is your assessment of just the whole panoply of witnesses they’ve had so far and how much they really added to the picture?

STEPHEN PUSH: It’s not so much that they added. The fact is that much of this information came out in the first year after 9/11, and now we are getting — now we are finally seeing these people brought into a public hearing and asked to justify these policies. And one of the things I find interesting about the testimony over the last few weeks is how frequently members of the administration have said, well, we couldn’t have known that terrorists would use planes in domestic attacks. Condoleezza Rice had said this back in May of 2002 and then when information came out that actually there was a lot of information within the government saying that that’s exactly what the terrorists were planning to do, then she backpedaled a bit recently and said I didn’t know about that but maybe other people in the government did.

It is really quite shocking that with this information out there, information that had been compiled since 1994, that terrorists could be planning to use planes as missiles to attack buildings, why the national security adviser of the United States didn’t know about that. Why, in fact, it was interesting in the hearing with Condoleezza Rice that one of the Republican commissioners, John Lehman asked a series of questions: Did you know about al-Qaida cells in this country, did you know about this, did you know about that, did the know about the Saudis supporting extremism — and he must have had at least a dozen questions. And a vast majority of the questions she either said I don’t know or I can’t remember or I didn’t know at the time.

If it’s true, that she really didn’t know this and that the president didn’t know this, the real question is why; what are the bureaucratic barriers to the information that’s in the pipeline that’s in the intelligence agencies get together decision makers who need the information?

MARGARET WARNER: Those bureaucratic barriers, Ms. Casazza, were a big subject of Condoleezza Rice’s testimony, and although she didn’t use the word dysfunctional, what she described was a very balkanized separated government structure in which agencies like the FBI and CIA didn’t talk to each other, where there wasn’t a good flow of information and communication. As you look at the whole situation, does that come through to you, and have you been surprised that that is a major contributing factor here?

PATTY CASAZZA: No, I haven’t been surprised. The history of the FBI and CIA have been just that — dysfunctional. What surprised me, though, was Condoleezza Rice said that she had tasked the agencies to look at the domestic terrorist threat to our nation and then did not follow up on that tasking. Here you have agencies that weren’t communicating before and you’re fully aware of that and then you leave them on their own to assess the domestic threat.

Until you have these agencies sitting down together, and I would opt for what, I guess the Clinton administration had done, was have these groups meet with the principals so that everyone was fully informed. If they couldn’t communicate with each other or with the national security adviser, then they would be communicating with the president and the president would put the pressure on these agencies. It would be a trickle-down theory, and hopefully more attention would be paid and we would have the information flowing up and down the system and we would possibly have thwarted or maybe minimized the attack of Sept. 11.

MARGARET WARNER: What Dr. Rice said, of course, was that there was no real silver bullet that she believed would have prevented the attacks.

STEPHEN PUSH: Well, that’s kind of a hedge. It has been one they have been using since Sept. 12, 2001. No, there is no single piece of intelligence, no single action that could have been taken. But there were a series of missteps. There were two known terrorists who had visas to enter the country. The CIA knew about them, didn’t tell the FBI. They knew about the Phoenix memo that said Arab men were coming to the United States to take flight lessons and might be planning some kind of attack. They knew about Moussaoui. And yet there is no one thing, but anybody who put these things together had to realize that something was up.

MARGARET WARNER: And of course they weren’t put together. Final question to you both, beginning with you, Ms. Casazza. What kind of a job do you think the commissioners themselves are doing? How confident are you that they are going to get to the bottom of this; that their report is really going to answer the questions we all have?

PATTY CASAZZA: Well, I think the commission got off to a really bad start. They did not have all the information they needed from the get go, from the various agencies being investigated.

MARGARET WARNER: But what about now?

PATTY CASAZZA: Now I feel that they’re get to the questions. But perhaps the structure of the questioning at the hearings that I saw, I would have liked individual commissioners to finish their line of questioning because the following commissioner often didn’t pick up with the questioning, getting to a definitive answer from the — like Condoleezza Rice.

MARGARET WARNER: How confident are you — first of all, just your assessment of how they’re doing and how confident you are –

STEPHEN PUSH: I think the commission is doing an excellent job. They’ve gotten unprecedented access to sensitive White House papers, testimony from a national security adviser on policy matters. This is unprecedented. And I think they’ve done a great job. They’ve pushed the envelope. They’ve gotten more from this administration than I thought they would get. They’ve gotten a lot of cooperation from the Clinton administration and I believe that in July, we are going to get a very comprehensive report. My fear is that because the Bush administration has been so slow to respond to all of the inquiries, and seems to be in denial about this issue, my fear is that it is going to be difficult to get the recommendations implemented.

MARGARET WARNER: Patty Casazza, I’m sorry, we have to leave it there but Ms. Casazza and Mr. Push, thank you both.

STEPHEN PUSH: Thank you, Margaret.

PATTY CASAZZA: Thank you