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The Commissioners

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice testified Thursday that "no silver bullet" could have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks. Two members of the 9/11 commission discuss the significance of Rice's testimony and their meeting with former President Clinton in a private session.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Gentlemen, welcome. Governor Kean, what was the most important thing you heard from Dr. Rice this morning?

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    Oh, it's hard to say one thing; there were so many. I mean, we learned certainly about the close relationship with the president. We learned a lot about the transition, how they came into office and how they really dealt with the problem of terrorism and she was very articulate in pointing out that she felt the president was engaged and very active in the area.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Congressman, did you hear anything today in the public is session that you had not already heard in the five hours of her testimony in private?

  • LEE H. HAMILTON:

    I don't think we were surprised by the testimony of Dr. Rice. I do think several things stood out to me. One, she put very strong emphasis throughout her testimony on the necessity of structural change, particularly in the intelligence community and better sharing of information.

    And there was one point in the hearing when I think Commissioner Lehman was asking her about, "were you aware of various events and conversations?" And she said she was not, which I think illustrated the stove-piping problem, that is, not enough communication among several of the bureaus and agencies of government.

    The other thing that stood out to me was the emphasis she put on integration. Putting together a counter- terrorism policy, it's very easy to look at law enforcement or defense, military action or stopping the money flows or whatever, but the really difficult part is integrating all aspects of the policy, and I think she put a lot of emphasis on that.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Governor, what would be on your standout list?

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    I'd agree with Congressman Hamilton in most of those areas. Certainly that whole, that whole business of trying to integrate, trying to get the agencies to communicate with one another, and the fact that their emphasis that we were structurally unprepared.

    A lot of people put the emphasis on what could have been by some person here or some person there, but she didn't say it was people. She said we actually were structurally unprepared for what happened to us on Sept. 11. And the implication was that they have changed a number of the structures since 7/11… since 9/11, but there's a lot more to do. She said it was not impossible, although it's less likely, it's not impossible there would be another event.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Based on what you have heard so far, Governor, do you agree with her, that it was not people, it was structure?

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    Well, I think probably the combination, but certainly she's right about the structures. There's no question that the FBI, the CIA, a number of those agencies were not structured really to take on the terrorism fight the way they… the way they should have been able to.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Governor, what about one of her basic premises which was that there was no information, no intelligence that came to the president prior to 9/11 that was… that would cause him to take action to prevent those attacks. Do you agree with that?

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    Yeah, that's… that's what we've had a number of witnesses basically say. There were a number of things that could have been done, and had they done it would have been helpful, but in all probability that 9/11 would have happened anyway. Mr. Clarke said the same thing.

    He was asked, "if every one of his recommendations had been followed, would you still have had 9/11?" He said, "well, probably yes."

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yeah. What's your view on that, Congressman?

  • LEE H. HAMILTON:

    Well, I think I'm still sorting it out in my mind. I am impressed by the number of intelligence warnings, the spiking of the threats that occurred during, particularly the summer of the year 2001.

    Now, what's very difficult is to put yourself into the place of the policymaker at that time and to try to figure out how high a priority you should put on it, given the other threats that the United States was dealing with — Russia and China and missile defense and a lot of other things.

    But there isn't any doubt in my mind that there was a lot of warnings coming to policymakers. Now the difficulty with those warnings is that they were not specific. You'll remember Dr. Rice said that several times: It was not a warning about the place and the method and the time — it was a general warning. And that points out the imperfection, if you would, of our intelligence. That is very tough intelligence to get. And we've not succeeded in getting it even now, I think, intelligence with that kind of specificity.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Governor, speaking of priorities, on the charge from Richard Clarke that he made in his testimony before you all a couple weeks ago that the Bush administration, prior to 9/11, did not give an urgent priority to combating al-Qaida specifically and terrorism generally. Now you heard Dr. Rice, you heard Richard Clarke, where do you think the truth lies?

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    Well, as usual, you know, it doesn't lie entirely I don't think with one or the other. She had a very spirited defense today of the Bush administration and the fact that terrorism was a priority for the Bush administration.

    On the other hand, some of Mr. Clarke's points are still there. I think it's one of things the commission has got to sort out. We've got to make judgments here, and some of the judgments are going to be very difficult. But whether or not this administration took terrorism seriously enough is going to be one of the judgments we're going to have to make.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    In fact, you are going to make that judgment? You're going to sit around the table and the ten of you are going to agree on whether or not the Bush administration did or did not give enough priority to this?

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    We're going to have to agree on the wording of the report, and the wording of the report is going to make some judgments. And I can't predict in advance what those judgments are going to be, but it's our job to sort it all out. We got a lot of testimony from a lot of people and we have to put it all together in the end.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Do you agree, Governor, that this is an important issue, the priority issue?

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    Oh, it's a very important issue as to what the Clinton administration did, what the Bush administration did, how high a priority it was, whether the programs they both came up with were successful or unsuccessful, what could have been done if those hadn't all been done.

    All that's important in telling the story of 9/11, and we're going to hopefully not only make those judgments and tell the story, but out of that come up with some recommendations to make people safer.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Congressman Hamilton, I've just been told that you all talked this afternoon with former President Clinton. Is that true?

  • LEE H. HAMILTON:

    Yes, it is. We ran, literally ran, to the next meeting. We concluded the hearing with Dr. Rice. We had to go to the location, which I think I probably should not disclose to meet with President Clinton. We met with him from about 1:15 or 1:20 until 5:15 or 5:20. We had about four hours with him.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    How did it go?

  • LEE H. HAMILTON:

    Well, it was fascinating, absolutely fascinating. And I think every commissioner would agree with that. He was exceedingly generous with his time, very candid in his discussions of even the most delicate kinds of relationships, for example, the relationship with several foreign countries and specifically several foreign leaders.

    He had a lot of very constructive suggestions to us as to how to put the report together and what kinds of recommendations to make. So I think the commissioners were all favorably impressed, both Republican and Democrat, and very appreciative of the amount of time that he gave to us.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Governor, did President Clinton express any regrets about actions he did or did not take in the area of al-Qaida and terrorism while he was president?

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    Well, he said he's going back in his mind over and over again about whether there's anything else he could have done and how he might have done it. But a lot of what we talked to him about was actually the inner workings of the presidency as well as many of the classified briefings we've been able to read. We asked him some pretty detailed questions on those. And he was just totally frank — totally frank, totally honest, and forthcoming. And I don't think there was a question the commissioner had that he was not willing to answer, and he said, "I'll stay just as long as you all want me to."

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Do you agree with Congressman Hamilton that there was a bipartisan good feeling about what he had said and done?

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    I don't think there's any question that there was a good feeling in the room about the kind of time he gave us, his honesty and forthrightness, and the fact that he really… we really did have a glimpse inside his presidency in a very frank and honest way which is going to be very helpful in the shaping of this report.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Will you release to the public what he said?

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    No, probably not. A lot of it is, a lot of it is classified, and it was discussing classified materials. So we took very careful notes and they'll be used to inform the report, but there probably will not be a release the material.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And there will not be… President Clinton will not be specifically quoted in the report. President Clinton said this or President Clinton said that?

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    I would doubt it.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yeah. Do you agree with that, Congressman Hamilton, that the ground rules will force you to do it that way, or will leave out attributions to former President Clinton?

  • LEE H. HAMILTON:

    Yes, I doubt… I agree with Governor Kean. I doubt very much if we would be quoting the president directly, the former president directly. If we should choose to do that, I'm sure we would send it to him for any for clearance. This was a private conversation.

    It was conducted in the same way that a thousand other interviews have been conducted. We've respected the rights of privacy of those we have interviewed. When you're talking with a person at this level of the government, at the very highest level, I think you have to be very discreet because he, President Clinton, is very aware that anything he says publicly can have a profound impact on American politics and on world politics. So, I think you have you have to exercise unusual discretion here.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Governor Kean, back to Dr. Rice's testimony. After all the pushing and shoving to get her to do what she did today, which was to appear in public under oath, was it worth it?

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    Yeah, it's enormously important, because all our other major witnesses had appeared in public under oath. That was a huge gap when we didn't think she was going to. She has such an important story to tell. She's such an important part of the whole story of 9/11. And not to have heard her in public, not to have let the public hear in a sense what she had to say to us in private but have her do it in public under oath would have been wrong.

    And so I think it was a very, very important moment today, and a very unusual moment. It won't, none of us for a long time again or in the past have ever seen a national security advisor raise their hand, raise her hand and take that oath. It was a very, very important moment.

  • LEE H. HAMILTON:

    It was an historic appearance. I cannot remember a national security advisor testing in public, under oath, talking at length about policy matters, and that's an unusual event.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Is it so, are you saying, Congressman, that it's less what she said, but the fact that she came in public and said it? Is that the important event of the day?

  • LEE H. HAMILTON:

    Well, I think so. If you ask, "did we find out a lot of new information?" I think the answer to that is probably no. We found out bits and pieces of new information perhaps. Her story was largely known to us because we had interviewed her privately for, I think, about four hours. We had heard from her deputy, we had heard from a lot of people that have worked close to her. The governor and I both felt– and the commission felt– that the principal benefit of her appearance was for the American people to hear directly from her. And I'm just very pleased that President Bush made the decision he did to let her testify and to let you and the American people hear from her directly.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Governor, a little self-assessment here before we go. How did you feel, you and your colleagues did on the bipartisanship level today and their questioning and reaction, et cetera?

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    Well, I was pretty proud of the commissioner… commission. I thought there was some very, there were some very tough questions, but I thought they were fair. I thought that there was not a great deal of what I would call partisanship from either side.

    Some of the tough questions against her came from Republicans, and some of the questions that I thought weren't so tough came from Democrats. And so it was a mix. And I think it portrayed the kind of bipartisan nature of this commission and I think speaks well of the fact that we're going to produce a report that's going to be a bipartisan report for the American people.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Congressman, at one time former Senator Kerrey suggested that Dr. Rice was trying to filibuster him. Do you agree with him? Is that what she was trying to do?

  • LEE H. HAMILTON:

    Well, that happens every time you have a hearing and when you have time limitations on the commissioners or members of Congress. We have to operate under pretty strict time rules. We had only two and a half hours with her. She had a lot to say.

    I think we owe it to her to give her a full opportunity to respond to the questions we asked. And I'm not at all surprised that we get a complaint here and there from a commissioner who says, "I need more time." That's a very normal occurrence in any kind of a hearing.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Okay. And you all have two days of public hearings next week. That's are both the current FBI Director, Mueller, and former FBI Director Louis Freeh, both of them going to testify?

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    Yes.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    That'll be for two days. We'll look at the FBI's involvement in pre-9/11, is that the purpose?

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    Yes, past and hopefully some recommendations for the future.

  • LEE H. HAMILTON:

    Then we also hear from former Attorney General Reno, and I think George Tenet comes back as well because we're going to be looking at structural problems in the intelligence community.

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    And Attorney General Ashcroft.

  • LEE H. HAMILTON:

    And the present attorney general will be there, too, yes.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    All right. Well, Governor, Congressman, thank you both very much.

  • THOMAS H. KEAN:

    Thank you.

  • LEE H. HAMILTON:

    Thank you.

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