KWAME HOLMAN: The release of the previously classified document satisfies a long standing request by the 9/11 commission. The president's daily briefing, or PDB, summarized suspected al-Qaida activity and raised the possibility of a domestic strike.
Last week before the commission national security adviser Condoleezza Rice described the PDB as a historical document, not a plan for action. Its title was Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.
The briefing which President Bush had requested noted that there were reports bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft, but that the CIA had not been able to corroborate that information. Subsequent FBI investigation, the document said, showed patterns of suspicious activity in this country, consistent with preparations for hijacking or other types of attacks including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.
The briefing told the president the FBI was conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers bin laden related. Today at his Texas ranch after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Bush talked about the pre 9/11 president's daily briefing.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: There was nothing in there that said, you know, there was an imminent attack. There was nothing in this report to me that said oh, by the way, we've got intelligence that says something is about to happen in America. That wasn't what this report said. The report was kind of a history of... of Osama's intentions, I guess is the best way to put it and a history of what the agency had known.
KWAME HOLMAN: After the weekend release of the briefing, 9/11 commissioners and members of Congress had differing views of its import.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: That is an important new piece of information and it has to be looked at in the context of the summer of threats. There were these incredible level of threats being accumulated by our intelligence agencies, indicating that a spectacular attack was imminent.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Should it have raised more of an alarm bell, rang more of an alarm bell than it did? I think in hindsight that's probably true.
KWAME HOLMAN: Tomorrow the 9/11 Commission turns to the FBI's role in following up on some of the pre 9/11 terror warnings. Commissioner Jim Thompson spoke on Good Morning America today.
JAMES THOMPSON: No reasonable American could hold the president responsible for the attack. If I'm the President of the United States, and I get a special briefing that I've asked for -- and he asked for this briefing -- and it said the FBI is conducting 70 full field investigations about this, now I assume the FBI is on top of the job. The president is not an FBI agent.
KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush himself is likely to answer questions about the briefing tomorrow evening, during a White House news conference.
GWEN IFILL: Now, three foreign policy columnists join us to talk about the 9/11 investigation, and developments in Iraq. They are Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post, and Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek International. He's the author of "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad." Trudy Rubin, the president maintains that even if he had known what was in this presidential daily brief, if they had said something, whatever was in this brief, there was nothing they could have done about it. What was your view of that?
TRUDY RUBIN: I still think that the most relevant point was made by Richard Clarke when he talked about shaking the trees. It's clear that the president expected and trusted the CIA and the FBI to do what was necessary, and with a we know clearly is that the FBI was dysfunctional, the two agencies weren't communicating and the CIA made a lot of mistakes too.
If the trees had been shaken with principals meeting with an effort to get information to flow from the bottom up to the top, then maybe some of these bits that were down in the bottom could have surfaced. That doesn't mean we would have prevented 9/11. I think it's too much to say, we mow that for sure even Clarke says probably not. But I think that is the biggest missing piece, that the information that was there with the FBI and CIA and that you get hints of in that briefing wasn't found.
GWEN IFILL: Jim Hoagland as you read this document, did anything in it strike you as new and therefore leading itself to preventability for the administration?
JIM HOAGLAND: I think what you really have to ask is if you were reading it on Aug. 6, 2001, was there something new in there that would strike you and cause you to go out and say hey, let's get on top of this, and I think there was.
The president has described this document as a historical one, and indeed a lot of it is history. But there's also clearly information about an ongoing pattern of suspicious behavior. Like most intelligence documents it's balanced, it covers all possible cases, it says at one point, we have been unable to confirm the most spectacular parts of the reporting on this. This will tend to make you sit back in your chair perhaps on Aug. 6 a little bit, so the balance may not have served the president well.
But I think what really is interesting right now is that the White House, after having brought President Bush out on Sunday and on Monday to explain this away really, has him coming out again tomorrow in a press conference, so clearly they don't think that they've been terribly persuasive on this.
GWEN IFILL: Fareed Zakaria, what is it the president has to do to persuade people tomorrow night?
FAREED ZAKARIA: I think the administration has made a mistake in taking on this very hard line, which is, there was absolutely nothing we did wrong, we couldn't have done anything otherwise. I think it's frankly not believable. I think if you were to take the approach that, look, in 20/20 hindsight there are a lot of things we could have done -and the president should say I spent a lot of time thinking about this and I do fault myself for things.
I don't know that they would have prevented 9/11, but sure, looking at things in retrospect, there are things we should have done, but we weren't thinking in those terms, not me, not my administration, not the whole country that's what we mean when we say 9/11 changed everything -- that before 9/11, there was a mood that was different.
I think it would make people realize that he's a human being grappling with this problem rather than a kind of automaton giving you this Orwellian answer that we did everything exactly right and there wasn't one iota, you know, of anything we could have changed.
GWEN IFILL: Some people say that what's happened -- the president's reaction to this has signaled a certain isolation that is happening at the White House and that that may extend to policy in Iraq as well. How do you see this, Trudy?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, it feels leak a siege mentality, there is this kind of Orwellian quality to the way the administration deals with problems. You know, with Iraq, for example, it was so important to them to say we have enough troops. And then when you'd find that they needed more troops, they would come to this in the most bizarre circum locution so that Abizaid at one point three months ago said we don't need more troops, we don't need more American troops, it would be nice to get foreign troops, which left you thinking wait a minute, do you need troops or do you not need troops? It can't matter what passport they carry.
GWEN IFILL: All right.
FAREED ZAKARIA: Today this last two weeks, Rumsfeld says, well, I guess we will have more troops there because we're not sending some back. But it doesn't mean we needed more troops. I think it seems Orwellian.
GWEN IFILL: Let me step in and ask Trudy Rubin for her thoughts on that.
TRUDY RUBIN: I think one of the things that has struck me watching the commotion over 9/11 and whether the information was there to know before 9/11 what was happening, to me the interesting question is was the information there to know before 3/18/03 when we went into Iraq what was likely to happen afterwards -- and while can you say imagination failed before 9/11, what fascinates me is that there was an enormous amount of information about what was likely to happen after a war. And I think the administration failed to look at a lot of it. And I think that what is happening now is because that information wasn't looked at.
GWEN IFILL: For example?
TRUDY RUBIN: For example, there were reports and studies done that advised not to disband the Iraqi army. Now the administration says the army disbanded itself. But there was a huge officer corps there -- many at mid level -- who could have been called back, who were not tainted, many of them Shiites who had never risen up higher because of their religion. Units could have been put back together.
Instead, the administration started from scratch with new security forces, which were described to me by U.S. officials in Baghdad as being the equivalent of the native auxiliaries of the Roman Legion. If you are training Iraqis basically to help out the Americans, you are not training them to deal with an insurgency, which many people warned might happen, that there would be unrest and so forth, but the administration wasn't prepared for that.
I think Paul Wolfowitz famously said that he expected the situation to be like post World War II France, and if that is what you expect then you're not prepared for what they found.
GWEN IFILL: Jim Hoagland, we just heard from John Burns that the Grand Ayatollah al Sistani is meeting with other Shiites including Moqtada al-Sadr this evening, or has met, in Iraq, and that this could be some sort of breakthrough. How critical does it seem to you that there be some sore of agreement that involves the ayatollah?
JIM HOAGLAND: Ayatollah Sistani is a very important force in Iraqi politics, even though he's a reclusive force who speaks in very elliptical terms. It's hard to figure out what he is trying to accomplish and what he is trying to say.
But if he is involving himself in an effort to calm down the situation in southern Iraq, and to have Moqtada al-Sadr retreat from the extreme rabble rousing and indeed murderous actions of his followers. And to answer the charges against him that he is accused of murdering a fellow Shiite cleric, then that would be a positive sign; he would be acting in a forceful way that he hasn't done so far. Let's hope it's in that direction.
GWEN IFILL: Fareed, how critical does that seem to you?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Oh, it's absolutely critical, because the hope we have going forward in Iraq is that we can find some way to politically marginalize these anti-American forces. You see, otherwise if this becomes a contest for who can seem to be standing up to the foreigner and demonstrating his nationalist credentials, then you have a kind of race to the bottom where the most anti-American elements win. And unfortunately this is quite common in colonial situations, where standing up to the occupier in an extreme way gets you a certain kind of popular appeal.
So if you can nip this in the bud, get Sistani and not just Sistani, other senior clerics in Najaf, you politically marginalize Moqtada al-Sadr. That's much more important than any use of force we can achieve. There's almost no example of effectively dealing with this kind of insurgency through military force. The key is politically marginalizing him.
GWEN IFILL: Trudy, do you have any idea what's supposed to map on June 30, who we're turning this over to?
TRUDY RUBIN: If I had an idea, I think I would be way ahead of a lot of people in the U.S. Government, whom I don't think have an idea either. And I think that is very much related to the problems we're seeing now, because there's so much uncertainty, not only about who things are going to be handed over to, whether it's going to be the governing council, the Iraqi governing council which is now this interim government, whether it's going to be an expanded governing council, who is going to be the U.S. Ambassador, what kind of a role he's going to play. What kind of a role our forces will play, and this new Iraqi government, could they tell American forces, well, you can't lay siege to Fallujah. So all these issues are so crucial.
And let me just add one point about Ayatollah Sistani, what was mentioned before. One of the problems with this June 30 deadline is that we are handing over to another unelected government. And this makes Shiite moderate leaders like Ayatollah Sistani very uneasy. They are becoming distrustful of American intentions, even though we have promised there will be elections by January, 2005, and that's in the transitional law. But I think an enormous effort has to be made to reach out to moderate Shiites, especially Ayatollah Sistani and persuade them that those elections will come and will be legitimate. And that is not happening around June 30 deadline. That's to another unelected body.
What President Bush needs to say
GWEN IFILL: Tomorrow night Jim Hoagland the president will be speaking on these and other issues. Before that we will hear from members of the law enforcement communities, Janet Reno, Louis Freeh, Robert Mueller, about what happened in the time leading up to 9/11. What is it that you would, if you were in the position of advising the president, would advise him to try to say tomorrow night?
JIM HOAGLAND: Well, I think that proposition horrifies him even more than it horrifies me and it's very unlikely to happen. But I think he has to, as Fareed has suggested, address head-on the question that, sure, we weren't thinking of the world in the way that we think of it today. He's got to be persuasive that he did what he could.
It would be interesting to know, by the way, whether the PDBs, presidential daily briefings, of the Clinton administration had the same kind of information and I suspect they did, and I suspect it got the same response. I think he wants, President Bush wants to deal very directly with the turmoil in Iraq, and to begin to give some picture of the way in which we see resolving that.
Trudy Rubin has made some excellent points about the vagueness of the approach today to the June 30 handover and to whom we're going to hand over power. In fact, you increasingly get the sense that we intend to hand over a formal built of sovereignty and not hand over power and continue to pull the strings from behind the scenes, which could lead us to real disaster in Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: Fareed, briefly, what is your thought about that, especially whether the president can provide the kind of clarify that Jim Hoagland is talking about?
FAREED ZAKARIA: I think Jim and Trudy have made very good points. The president needs to be forthright, he needs to be honest. I think most importantly he needs to convey that he has the Iraq situation under control. I don't think the American people fault him for not being able to prevent 9/11.
A lot of the political surround here is because Iraq is deteriorating. People question the president's judgment, his competence, and the 9/11 Commission coming on top of that has made things much worse.
With regard to Iraq, the absolutely crucial thing has to be to figure out how to create a legitimate body to transfer power to. People have focused on the date, June 30, it's irrelevant. Keep it, don't keep it. The most important thing is transfer power to some group that is not regarded as an American puppet, because if of that happens then you have this danger of the United States supporting a government that has no legitimacy within the country, has no political power, has no monetary authority, and that reminds one an awful lot of the United States in South Vietnam in the 1960s.
GWEN IFILL: Fareed Zakaria, Jim Hoagland and Trudy Rubin, thank you all very much.