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Gov...t Records Confirm that CIA Head Warned Rice on Al-Qaida

By Philip Shenon 
and Mark Mazzetti
THE NEW YORK TIMES


JIDDA, SAUDI ARABIA

A review of White House records has determined that George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, did brief Condoleezza Rice and other top officials on July 10, 2001, about the looming threat from al-Qaida, a State Department spokesman said Monday.

The account by the spokesman, Sean McCormack, came hours after Rice, the secretary of state, told reporters aboard her airplane that she did not recall the specific meeting on July 10, noting that she had met repeatedly with Tenet that summer about terrorist threats. Rice, the national security adviser at the time, said it was “incomprehensible” to suggest she had ignored dire terrorist threats two months before the Sept. 11 attacks.

McCormack also said records showed that the Sept. 11 commission had been informed about the meeting, a fact that former intelligence officials and members of the commission confirmed Monday. Members of the commission had earlier said they could not recall being told about it.

When details of the meeting emerged last week in “State of Denial,” a new book by Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, Bush administration officials questioned Woodward’s reporting.

Now, after several days, both current and former Bush administration officials have confirmed parts of Woodward’s account.

Officials now agree that on July 10, 2001, Tenet and his counterterrorism deputy, J. Cofer Black, were so alarmed about an impending attack by al-Qaida that they demanded an emergency meeting at the White House with Rice and her National Security Council staff.

According to two former intelligence officials, Tenet told those assembled at the White House about the growing body of intelligence the CIA had collected pointing to an attack. But both current and former officials took issue with Woodward’s account that Tenet and his aides had left the meeting in frustration and feeling that Rice had ignored them.

Tenet told members of the Sept. 11 commission about the July 10 meeting when they interviewed him in early 2004, but committee members said he never indicated he had left the White House with the impression that he had been ignored.

“Tenet never told us that he was brushed off,” said Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic member of the commission. “We certainly would have followed that up.”

Rice, speaking Sunday night to reporters traveling with her to the Middle East, said she did not remember the emergency meeting with Tenet on July 10.

“What I can be quite certain of is that I would remember if I was told, as this account apparently says, that there was about to be an attack in the United States,” she said. “The idea that I would have somehow ignored that, I find incomprehensible — especially given that in July, we’re getting a steady stream of quite alarmist reports of potential attacks.” McCormack said the records showed that far from ignoring Tenet’s warnings, Rice acted on the intelligence and requested that Tenet make the same presentation to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft.