March 23, 2004 at 11:56 PM CST - Updated June 26 at 9:26 PM
ROEMER: I want to thank the secretary for that gracious gesture.
I want to start, Mr. Chairman, by, I believe, underscoring something you said in your opening statement.
Well, we have a book issued by Richard Clarke which is a blistering attack on the Bush administration. We have Dr. Rice on the airwaves saying that she strongly condemns and disagrees with Mr. Clarke's assessments and analysis.
I would hope that this discussion would not be for the airwaves and would not be a partisan type of discussion that we have, but belongs in this hearing room tomorrow in a substantive way so that the 10 commissioners can ask factually based questions and so the American people have the access to those answers to try to make this country safer.
So I would underscore your comments, Mr. Chairman, that I hope Dr. Rice will reconsider and come before our commission for the sake of the American people tomorrow.
Madam Secretary, I want to mention your book, if I may, Madam Secretary -- I don't need to mention a bestseller.
You say, in a chapter called A Special Kind Of Evil, that, the African bombings -- our embassies there -- were the worst day of your tenure as secretary of state. We lost 224 people, 12 Americans. The devil breathed down our neck that day, and three years later, 19 hijackers drove us into the jaws of Hell, where we are today. trying to resolve some of these tough questions.
The Clinton administration launched 79 cruise missiles 13 days after finding who did this. Had diplomacy run its course? Should we have taken the same kind of action that we took after the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa with the USS Cole?
ALBRIGHT: Congressman Roemer, let me say that, as you pointed out, when the embassies were blown up, it was my worse day. I went to Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. In Nairobi, I saw the rubble and I saw the suffering of the African people, many of whom were in hospitals as a result of what had happened, and obviously many were dead.
And so for me, this was a horrendous moment and one that I was bound and determined to figure out why it had happened and what we could do about it.
I asked Admiral Crowe to form a commission to determine various actions that we could take, and it was something that was on my mind constantly.
I was very much in favor of the attack with the cruise missiles, and was very much in favor, along with the rest of our team, to try to do everything we could to have further military attacks if and when we had predictable and actionable intelligence.
And as I say in my statement, I believed fully that we were prepared to go. President Clinton had issued all the orders. We had kept armed submarines in the Arabian Sea. And we were ready if there ever was actionable intelligence. And so I did favor military action.
But at the same time, we had to continue to act diplomatically. I have always believed that what is necessary is to use every tool in the American national security arsenal, whether it is military, diplomatic or economic or legal. And we tried everything at the same time.
On the USS Cole, we were obviously prepared to respond, but we did not have definitive evidence that it really was committed by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda; that evidence came after we were out of office. But had we had definitive evidence, I can assure you that we were prepared to act militarily.
ROEMER: Let me ask you a question about that, Madam Secretary.
There are three investigations going on with respect to the USS Cole. The Yemenis are doing one, the FBI is doing one and the CIA is doing one.
In December, the CIA comes forward, hedges the recommendation, comes forward with a preliminary judgment, and says they can't, through command and control, prove that Osama bin Laden ordered it.
Isn't it enough at this point to say al Qaeda did it and respond in that kind of way, either in December or certainly in the months that come after your administration?
I, myself, called the president of Yemen to help us in this issue and to press for additional investigations. I think the results came after we were out of office, and I would have hoped that action could have been taken.
But there was no definitive action of any kind at the time that we left office.
ROEMER: In terms of the time that you spent as a secretary of state on terrorism -- we'll have Secretary Powell follow you -- what percent of your time, if you can give us a rough estimation, did you spend?
You had Middle East peace. You certainly were one of the driving forces in being a hawk with respect to Kosovo and using our military there. What percent of your time can you best estimate that you spent on counterterrorism policy?
ALBRIGHT: It's very hard, Congressman, to give you an exact estimate, but I can tell you what I did, which is every morning when I came into my office, I obviously read the intelligence, but I also met with the assistant secretary for security.
I had changed the standard practice and named a law enforcement officer to that job, David Carpenter, who was a retired Secret Service agent. And so I had a real expert dealing with it. We spent whatever time was necessary in the morning in order to go over the threats.
Then either I or Ambassador Pickering, depending upon who was in town, went to the small meetings that took place on counterterrorism issues.
We talked about issues to do with terrorism, Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda in so many meetings, whether they were official principals meetings at the White House or the breakfasts that Mr. Berger and Secretary Cohen and...
ROEMER: ABC breakfasts, Albright...
(CROSSTALK) ALBRIGHT: No. The ABCs were lunches. The breakfasts were a little bit larger, with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Mr. Tenet and the ambassador to the United Nations.
But we talked about this constantly and therefore it's hard to give you an estimate of the time. But it was very much...
ROEMER: Can you guess at all? Twenty percent? Fifty percent?
ALBRIGHT: I would say probably somewhere about 35 percent, because it was something that was constant and it was very hard to quantify.
I think maybe Ambassador Pickering can also tell you how much time he spent on it because our activities were seamless.
PICKERING: I think that secretary's judgment in this -- and she used to call me after the morning meetings and give me orders to carry things out and get things done. Given the number of meetings, particularly in crisis periods leading up to the millennium, for example, sometimes most of the day would be occupied in dealing with this particular issue until all the meetings that the secretary mentioned -- she had many internal meetings in the State Department to plan for not only what she should do with the ongoing meetings at an interagency basis, but also get us thinking about new ideas, thinking out of the hat on this issue and trying to come up with new and different ways to deal with the problem.
ALBRIGHT: So some days, it was 100 percent. So I think it's very hard to give you a real percentage.
ROEMER: Let me, in my 15 minutes, move quickly through some things. I mentioned Secretary Powell will be coming next.
I imagine you briefed Secretary Powell as he came into office in a transition. Did you let the secretary know that al Qaeda was going to be the kind of threat that he would need to spend 35 percent or 50 percent or 100 percent, in some days, of his time fighting this new fluid, dynamic threat to this country? And what was his reaction or what was Dr. Rice's reaction to these types of briefings?
ALBRIGHT: Well, let me explain a little bit of what happened in the transition in the State Department as something that is done many times and is well put together. So I had general meetings with Secretary Powell. Then, when he moved into his offices in the first floor of the State Department, I arranged to make sure that every assistant secretary briefed him on whatever the issue was. And Ambassador Sheehan, who was in charge of counterterrorism, briefed Secretary Powell in detail about the kinds of things that we have been talking about, in terms of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, et cetera.
In my general discussions with Secretary Powell, I did point out that this was a major issue that had occupied a large portion of my time. But... ROEMER: How did he react to that?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I think he understood that this was a serious issue. And I only know what I've read in terms of Mr. Berger's conversations with Dr. Rice, but I believe that Secretary Powell understood the dangers that were inherent.
I want to ask, very bluntly and very frankly, your opinion with regard to their cooperation with the United States prior to 9/11.
We were able to get the Saudis to cooperate on issues such as having Ambassador Turkey go to yell at Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, but we could not get them to access al Qaeda's CFO. What kind of relationship was this? And did you personally press the Saudis hard in these kinds of instances when we needed access to high-level people like Madoni Al Tayid (ph)?
ALBRIGHT: I think, as you pointed out, our relationship with Saudi Arabia is a very complicated one and the Saudi record is a mixed one, frankly.
I think that they were helpful on a number of issues. I talked to Crown Prince Abdullah, as well as Foreign Minister Saud, about a number of issues, obviously including bin Laden and al Qaeda. We also spent a lot of time on Iraq, and we spent a lot of time in terms of issues to do around the Middle East peace process.
They always did say that they would press and push on the bin Laden/al Qaeda front but, frankly, it's hard to say how effective it was at what times.
ROEMER: Are you convinced they were pushing?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I was convinced when they told me they were pushing, but the bottom line is that, in effect, as you look at the record, there were questions about some of the financial aspects. And I do think that there is a mixed record.
One of the things about the Saudis is that they often do more things in private than is evident publicly, but I would say the record was a mixed one. I would say we pushed as hard as we could.
ROEMER: Let me ask you, Madam Secretary, in your book, you say, and I quote, Sadly I was not surprised that we were attacked, or even shocked that the airplane hijacking was involved, unquote.
You were not surprised by that September 11th event? Did you have intelligence or briefings indicating that hijackings were possible on September 11th? Why weren't you surprised? And did it include not being shocked that planes were used as missiles and weapons, or that it was al Qaeda?
ALBRIGHT: A number of responses to that, Congressman.
I think that we were operating within an atmosphere where we were watching all kinds of potential attacks, and, in fact, foiled a number of them in the years that we were in office. I, kind of, call them the dogs that didn't bite or bark, because people didn't hear about them.
So, I think that we were always on the lookout, which is why I said I wasn't surprised, because we knew that there were a variety of attacks possible and we foiled some.
In various briefings, we were told that there were all kinds of ways to do things: car bombs or suitcases or bio or chemical. And among the various parts of what we were briefed, there would be sometimes a mention of an airplane.
But basically, we were looking at all kinds of potential ways that there could be attacks. And so the sadness of this was that we were always on the lookout for some terrible thing, and we were foiling many, many of the potential attacks.
ROEMER: Madam Secretary, thank you very much. I've been slipped a note that my time has expired and I want to stick right to that so that other commissioners can get in.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you, Congressman.
LEHMAN: Madam Secretary, welcome.
One of the constant refrains we've had in the over a thousand interviews that we've done and through the documents that we have been studying, is that there was considerable dysfunction in the intelligence community, particularly with regard to sharing of information. A lot of people did not know about information that was in the government that was not shared, stovepiped. And many people were not playing with a full deck.
So I'd like to ask your own view...
... some even with intelligence -- about starting with your entry as secretary of state. You'd been at the U.N. You were part of the inner circle, the NSC, the Cabinet. What was the picture that you had when you took over the reins as secretary of state as to the nature of the threat -- the terrorist threat?
ALBRIGHT: When I came in as secretary, which was February 1997, there was no question that we knew about a variety of threats. I had, at the U.N., been involved with some of the issues to do with Sudan, where we were very concerned about the web of terrorist camps and support, et cetera, that were present in Sudan.
If you remember, the Sudanese were implicated in an assassination attempt on President Mubarak, and it was as a result of that that we instituted or put in sanctions against Sudan.
And so I clearly was aware of issues and was briefed. And also briefed in terms of some of the investigations to do with the World Trade Center.
So one knew that there were various terrorist threats that we were dealing with, but on, as I pointed out in my remarks, kind of, a whole new level of problems.
And I did see, I have to say, something that you alluded to, which was a lack of communication already between the CIA and the FBI in terms of transmitting information to each other. And so what we tried to do was to bring them closer together, with some difficulty. I think some to do with the culture of both those agencies, and something that I recommend finally that needs to be fixed.
But on the whole, I think there was a lot of intelligence available and the question is how it was read.
LEHMAN: Well, specifically on the '93 attack on the World Trade Center, we have been told by some very senior officials that the complete picture, the evidence of the al Qaeda links of the perpetrators, were really not made known until after -- shared within the government until after the trial of the blind sheik. And the links of Abdel Rahman Yasin, for instance, were not widely known within the government.
When did you, if you could think back, become aware of the close and many links between the '93 plotters and al Qaeda?
ALBRIGHT: I can't remember exactly. I mean, I think that, you know, we began to know more about al Qaeda sometime in '96, '97. We knew bin Laden was a financier that was involved in a variety of activities. But I honestly can't tell you exactly when I became aware of the various linkages.
LEHMAN: Did you know about Abdel Rahman Yasin and his fleeing to Baghdad and his support and cooperation with Saddam's intelligence service? Did you see any significance in that? He being, of course, one of the main plotters of the '93 bombing.
ALBRIGHT: I can't say that I remember that.
LEHMAN: Just on that theme, the fact that Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas were there along with Yasin, would this have been a reason to begin to look a bit at what the Iraqi secret service was doing with al Qaeda, with or without Saddam's knowledge?
ALBRIGHT: Again, my sense of all of this was that there were shadowy connections among a variety of groups. But in terms of this kind of specificity, frankly, that was not something that as secretary of state I would have been looking into.
LEHMAN: One of the questions, again, that have often been raised is, almost as soon as the Clinton administration came in there was an attempt to assassination President Bush. There was a very minor strike launched against the intelligence service of Saddam -- intelligence headquarters, and with the assurance that no one would be there so it would be in the middle of the night.
After the Khobar bombing there were many in the administration who wanted to retaliate, but in fact nothing was done.
After the '93 WTI attack there essentially was nothing done, pending the five-year trial.
As you recall, there were criticisms at the time that this was a wag-the-dog scenario, that it was during the various stages of the president's problems, and that there was no real evidence there; that it was an innocent pharmaceutical plant. You were part of the inner sanctum at the time.
In your view, was there real evidence that this was part of a bin Laden network?
ALBRIGHT: You've said a lot of different things.
Let me just say that I do believe that when we had evidence, we used force. And the response on the '93 -- on the attempted assassination of President Bush, we reacted I think, very strongly. That's certainly what the Iraqis thought.
And I was the one that had the rather peculiar moment of delivering the message to the Iraqi ambassador at the United Nations, while sitting in his residence under a portrait of Saddam Hussein, that we were bombing Baghdad and then went to the Security Council with the proof of it.
So I think that we acted very well on that, and should be a sign that we were prepared to use military force when it was appropriate and we had intelligence in order to make it effective.
I think on the issue of '98, we were prepared to use force, and did use it immediately after the bombings of the embassies, as I said earlier.
On actionable intelligence, I believed, and continue to believe, that the plant in Sudan was connected to this network that Osama bin Laden had had in Sudan and that it was an appropriate strike.
And as you point out -- and I think this is the very hard part for all of us, Mr. Secretary -- is that we have to put ourselves into the pre-9/11 mode, and it's hard, because we've been in our post-9/11 prism, where we should be, and yet things were very different before 9/11.
And as you point out, we were mostly accused of overreacting, not underreacting. And I believe we reacted appropriately, and as I said earlier, we would have acted more had we had actionable intelligence.
And so, I think we dealt very appropriately with the issue and I think our record stands well.
LEHMAN: The reports at the time and subsequently have appeared in various places that the evidence involved with the pharmaceutical plant not only involved al Qaeda and specifically Osama, but also the Iraqi -- various programs within the Iraqi government, let us say.
Did you see any significance in that as something to worry about, perhaps the Iraqis' involvement with Osama might be a bit more than it might appear?
ALBRIGHT: I did not make the connection.
But let me just say this, is that if you look at the record, I was as hawkish on Saddam Hussein as anybody, made more statements and took more actions, whether I was ambassador at the United Nations or secretary of state, in terms of trying to contain Saddam Hussein and make sure that he proceeded in terms of trying to live up to or fulfill the Security Council resolutions.
I don't know, Tom, whether you have anything.
PICKERING: Mr. Secretary, I also participated in the meetings leading up to that decision.
There were two pieces of evidence only that I was aware of that I thought were very, very important and that helped, I believe, to crystallize the decision. One was the report we had following chemical analysis of the actual sample of a precursor to VX nerve gas that did not occur in nature. It was very unique and was not used for any other known purpose.
And the other was the connection that the secretary just talked to you about of the plant with investments of activities of Osama bin Laden in Sudan. As you know, he spent time in Sudan prior to the attack on the plant.
And I was not aware of any Iraqi connection until after the attack.
LEHMAN: Thank you.
Let me shift to Saudi Arabia. As I'm sure you all know, it is a kind of a, sort of, common wisdom, or in the State Department, one would say an urban myth, that the culture of the department is ruled by pro-Saudi- pro-Sunni bent.
And there are things that certainly give credence to that in the record leading up to 9/11. The fact that State never made any demarche to get after the Saudis had perhaps the second most powerful man in al Qaeda in their possession from '95 on and didn't tell us for some time, and to this day has not been turned over to us. The fact that the activities of the Saudi Ministry of Religious Affairs have really never gotten even on to the scope of the agenda between Saudi Arabia and the United States. The flow, this constant promotion of jihadist ideology around the world.
In your time -- and the fact, of course, that, which has recently become an issue that, despite the fact that the priests and ministers are in jail in Saudi for having Christian services, they are -- nevertheless, Saudi was never listed on the annual list of State Department states who don't offer religious freedom.
Do you find this was a problem? Is there a cultural problem, or is this purely a myth?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I don't think there's a cultural problem. I think that basically there are those in the Department that are responsible for our relationships with Saudi Arabia, and there are people in the department who are responsible for our relationships with Israel and other countries. And I think that, as secretary, and as undersecretary, we took all those issues under consideration, obviously.
I do think, as I said earlier, our relationship with Saudi Arabia is an incredibly complicated one. We had forces stationed there. We were trying to figure out how to deal with Iraq. We understood the role of Saudi Arabia within the Arab world.
And we pressed them. I, personally, pressed them on issues to do -- believe it or not -- on women's rights. I pressed them on the religious issues. I pressed them on questions to do with how they were using their charitable money. And we did push them at a variety of times.
As I said earlier, the record is mixed. But the relationship is complicated and there are divisions within Saudi society, and I think it will continue to be a highly complex relationship for the United States.
PICKERING: Also, Mr. Secretary, on the visa case, as I know all of you know from your own work and some of the work that has been done ahead of time, the State Department officers issuing visas relied on something called a watch list. And in fact, the State Department had taken the initiative to develop the watch list in connection with certain criminal activities and then expanded it in cooperation with the intelligence community to try to deal with terrorism, as we all saw terrorism becoming a much more serious problem.
Visa officers interview people often to determine whether they're going to overstay their visa; become immigrants without going through the appropriate processes.
I don't know that visa officers, except by happenstance, have any particular ability to detect terrorists. But maybe we have new profiles now that will help.
But the watch list was the basis for that. And unfortunately in that particular case, the watch list was not up to date and, therefore, we missed those individuals that should have been caught by the visa process.
LEHMAN: Thank you very much.
KEAN: I just have one question. It seems to me that for years, at the end of the Clinton administration and into the Bush administration, we seem to have a hope -- which I don't quite understand -- that the Taliban somehow would agree, through diplomatic pressure or through some other pressure, to give up Osama bin Laden in some way or other. And it seems to go on for a few years, even though I can't find in anything I've read any justification, really, for that hope.
I understand trying for a while, but once you've probably coming to the end of your rope on those attempts, recognizing that this was a man who was the leader of the Taliban, was something who wasn't even talking to people because they weren't Muslims, diplomatically?
ALBRIGHT: I do think that we later learned about the very, kind of, as I said, symbiotic relationship between the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. And if you look at it, it's hard to -- the vain hope is the way that I say -- as you review it, that you feel.
There were a variety of meetings that we had with them. We thought that we could either threaten or induce them to give him up. But even -- and I have to say the options, let's say, of bombing them has not produced Osama bin Laden.
So I think that you do have to look at the options that you have. And if we did not have the leverage, then perhaps the Pakistanis, for instance, who had closer relations with them, or the Saudis, we had hoped would have that kind of relationship.
But clearly, this very knitted relationship was not something that was evident that we had good intelligence on.
KEAN: Senator Kerrey?
KERREY: Madam Secretary, first of all, it's very nice to see you again.
It seems to me during the Clinton administration there were two big mistakes and I wonder if you'd comment on them.
The first is that from 1993 through 2001, the United States of America was either attacked or we prevented attack by radical Islamists close to a dozen times, either where the attack was successful or whether we interrupted the attack. And that during that period of time, not only did we not engage in any single military attack other than the 20th of August 1998 -- there was no attack against al Qaeda during that entire period of time.
Indeed, the presidential directive that was -- the operative one of 62, that was written and signed in May of 1998, didn't give the military primary authority in counterterrorism. They were still responsible for supporting the states and local governments if we were attacked and they were still providing support for the Department of Justice and doing investigations.
And it seems to me especially -- you cited the '93 case with Iraq, the bombing of Iraq -- it seems to me that that was a terrible mistake. Indeed, the commission has seen evidence that people at lower levels of the Department of Defense and Dick Clarke himself were preparing analyses suggesting more aggressive military efforts and it went nowhere. So that's mistake number one that I think was a big one.
And the second one was after we had reason to believe that the Saudis were financing terrorists who were at least indirectly connected, if not directly connected, with killing Americans on the 7th of August 1998, that we didn't threaten to freeze their assets or actually freeze their assets; something that my guess is would have a dramatic impact on the kingdom's willingness to continue to behave in that fashion.
So those are the two mistakes that I think were made during the Clinton administration. The first one, I think, is a really large one. Honestly, I don't understand if we're attacked and attacked and attacked and attacked, why we continue to send the FBI over like the Khobar Towers was a crime scene or the East African embassy bombings was a crime scene.
You said we had balance between military effort and diplomacy. And frankly, I've got to say, it seems to me it was very unbalanced in favor of diplomacy against military efforts.
ALBRIGHT: I think, Senator -- or Mr. President -- is that it is...
ALBRIGHT: ... very difficult to assess what the targets would have been. And in many cases, some of the linkages that have been made now were not evident at the particular time. And to bomb at random or use military force I think would have created a situation that would have made our lives, American lives, even more difficult within the Muslim world.
These are judgments that have to be made. And I think I'm known well enough inside and outside the government as somebody who was always willing to match diplomacy with force.
And so, I do believe that we used force when it was appropriate, and strongly. So I think that...
KERREY: Madam Secretary, with great respect, after August of '98 you and I both know what we did.
I think it's a straw man to say that we're going to have random bombing or indiscriminate bombing. That's not what we're proposing at all.
I keep hearing the excuse we didn't have actionable intelligence. Well, what the hell does that say to al Qaeda? Basically, they knew -- beginning in 1993 it seems to me -- that there was going to be limited, if any, use of military and that they were relatively free to do whatever they wanted.
ALBRIGHT: Senator, there never -- as far as I know -- was a discussion as to whether there was a choice between using force in the Balkans and using force against al Qaeda. That was not a choice that ever was discussed or made. It was not one or the other.
And I think that the executive orders that President Clinton put out about using lethal force against Osama bin Laden, everything that we did in terms of the structure that we put together to freeze various assets and to go after them with every conceivable tool that we had -- you, Senator, I know, were the only person that I know of who suggested declaring war. In retrospect, you were probably right.
But we used every single tool we had in terms of trying to figure out what the right targets would be and how to go about dealing with what we knew to be a major threat.
And I reviewed it, and I am satisfied that we did what we could given the intelligence that we had and pre-9/11, if I might say. We have to keep being reminded of that, because there were whole questions -- as Secretary Lehman said -- that we overreacted, not the other way around.
KEAN: Commissioner Fielding?
FIELDING: Madam Secretary, Ambassador Pickering, thank you both very much for being here and for your service to our commission and to the country.
I have a follow-up question very similar to the two that have just been asked you. There was broad consensus among officials -- in civilian and military -- prior to 9/11 that there was little or no congressional support or even public support for a large scale U.S. military action against al Qaeda in the Afghan territory.
Likewise, there was skepticism that we've been told about, frequently, within the U.S. government that the military really was reluctant to engage in any military action against bin Laden in Afghan, and in fact, as Senator Kerrey just said, but for the retaliatory strike after the East African embassy bombings, there was no follow up.
Now, that leads to my question: Did the Taliban have a reason to believe that we would make good on that threat, that it was a valid threat? And likewise, what steps -- when you formulate a policy to make that kind of a threat, what steps did you take to ensure that we, in fact, had a credible military force that could enforce that?
ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, as I said, President Clinton had ordered that lethal force be used. There were armed submarines in the Arabian Sea and a variety -- bombers on standby and ready to go so that -- the orders were there.
The president also asked for a variety of options from the Pentagon in terms of special forces, a variety of -- as far as I know, there was no option off the table and that there were questions about the Pentagon saying that these were not viable.
You will have Secretary Cohen here and you can ask him these questions. But I do know that from the perspective of one of the members of the principals' committee, I, as secretary of state, can assure you that the president asked for a variety of military options.
And so, I, again, think that you have -- from my perspective, the Pentagon did not come forward with viable options in response to what the president was asking for.
PICKERING: I also think, Mr. Fielding, that the record is pretty clear on the intensive looks that we were giving to the target lists, and what could be found, and how to find Osama, and could we see him. And we found that we may have seen him, but he wasn't there, or perhaps he was going to be someplace, but it never panned out.
But there are very clear indications -- using Afghan irregulars who were prepared to work with us, using the kinds of strikes that we used against the camps, looking at all of the other alternatives -- this was a constant preoccupation that we had many times when I would have phoned the secretary on the secure phone and say, We think it's about to happen, only to call her back 24 hours later and say, No, it didn't work.
FIELDING: No, I appreciate that.
But to get back to the second part of my question, when you formulate a diplomatic policy, if you will, which says we're going to use force against you and we're going to use our military if you don't resolve this in a diplomatic sense.
My real question is what process do you go through before that decision is made to ensure that we really did have a credible military plan and force that could react to that to make our threat to the Taliban credible?
ALBRIGHT: Well, we did -- and Ambassador Pickering participated in many of these meetings -- we had interagency meetings to talk about what our various options were. And I think we all felt it was appropriate to let the Taliban know that they would be held responsible if further action were held.
And as we made that -- the truth is that they didn't do anything in between the time that we made that point to them. And it was a threat that was out there, a Damocles sword. And we did have various options to deal with them with the cruise missiles off the submarines and other ways of bombing.
I personally am not satisfied that we were able to get all the right answers out of the Pentagon. I think that is a question. And one of the issues always in any interagency meeting, whether it was starting when I was ambassador at the United Nations, I would ask for a variety -- although at that case not as appropriate as when I was secretary -- for a variety of options in terms of what could be done militarily.
And I think you will have to ask Secretary Cohen, because we all dealt on this issue together. And I think that the thing that is very hard to explain to people now is how much time we spent on all this and were constantly debating what we could do given a pre-9/11 atmosphere. It really was very, very different. And most people thought that we had made up the issues of terrorism, as Secretary Lehman pointed out.
So I hope very much that in considering all this, you do -- I know how hard it is for me, and I'm sure it's hard for you -- is to get back into the pre-9/11 mode.
FIELDING: Thank you. Thank you both very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you.
GORELICK: Madam Secretary and Ambassador Pickering, thank you for being here and thank you for your service to this country.
So, I would like to know what your reaction was when there was developed a plan to use special forces to invade Afghanistan and go and get bin Laden post the '98 embassy bombings, when DOD opposed using this plan as unworkable and unwieldy. What was your view on their posture?
ALBRIGHT: Well, let me say, and as I said in my opening remarks, the embassy bombings were something that was -- very deeply touched everything that I did at the State Department and affected -- you know when Admiral Crowe presented his report, it was, I think, devastating in many ways. And he blamed me personally. So, believe me, it was something that, as secretary of state, I did feel responsible. These were people who worked for me.
And I felt very much that we needed to do everything we could to make sure that there was a retaliation against those who had done it and that we had to pursue so that this would not happen again. And I did press, as did others, for a variety of options.
And the explanation about the special forces that was always hard was, you either had a very small group that was then not able to protect itself, or one that was so large that would be detectable. And so the balance of trying to find the right special operations group was very difficult.
But you have to ask the military people this question...
GORELICK: Oh, we will.
ALBRIGHT: ... because president Clinton and I and Sandy Berger, we all pushed and pressed, as did Ambassador Pickering. Because I think that we did see the linkage between diplomacy and the threat of force and the use of force.
I spent most of my eight years in office thinking and talking about the linkages between diplomacy and use of force, and that one underlines the other. And so I did my best, in fact, to question on this.
GORELICK: Would you agree with the statement that Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz gave us, that if the DOD had gone to Congress before 9/11 and asked to invade Afghanistan that they would not have been taken seriously?
ALBRIGHT: I think I do agree with that, because it was very hard to get congressional support for military action. We had a hard time in various other areas, whether it was supporting peacekeeping operations or generally in terms of trying to get support because I think there was a whole question about how serious this all was, despite the fact that I think we made many statements to the effect, as I said, President Clinton and Ambassador Pickering and I, and Sandy Berger and Secretary Cohen spoke very often about the continuing danger of terrorism.
But on this particular subject, I do agree with Undersecretary Wolfowitz.
GORELICK: I appreciate the caveat.
You issued a demarche, or a warning, to the Taliban before the call, saying that you would hold or the U.S. government would hold the Taliban responsible for any harm to Americans, is that correct?
GORELICK: And after the Cole, you, in answer to a question from Secretary Lehman, said -- or maybe it was Congressman Roemer -- you said, We didn't know -- by the time you left office, you didn't know that the attack on the Cole was the responsibility of bin Laden; is that correct?
ALBRIGHT: That is correct.
GORELICK: But having made that threat, what is your view on the necessity for the U.S. government to have responded to the Cole forcefully when that conclusion of responsibility was in fact made?
ALBRIGHT: Well, as I said and you repeated, we did not have definitive proof. The definitive proof came during the Bush administration. And they had repeated the threat.
So I think you have to again ask them in terms of how they saw, whether they reacted appropriately once it was proven that the Cole was linked to al Qaeda.
In our case, there was not proof by the time we left office that it was and we stood with our threat.
GORELICK: Thank you.
LEHMAN: Just to set the record straight, however, our investigations have indeed proved that the conclusion was reached in CIA at a much earlier time; in fact, as early as November, and certainly by December.
GORELICK: But not conveyed to decision-makers.
LEHMAN: But not conveyed to decision-makers.
ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that is a general issue that people need to look at, is how material comes up the system and who knows what at what time. I think that is an issue, how it is conveyed and at what time.
KEAN: Senator Gorton?
GORTON: Same general subject, Madam Secretary. I take from page six of your written statement: There would have been reason to justify military action -- that is an invasion of Afghanistan -- but without the megashock of September 11th, we would not have had a local staging ground to support such an attack and diplomatic backing would have been virtually nonexistent.
Would you not say that exactly the same situation existed during the first eight months of the Bush administration; i.e., prior to 9/11?
ALBRIGHT: I do think that clearly 9/11 affected them as it did us. And therefore the question is, how they looked at the particular material. They seem to have felt also that there was not a justification.
I think the question comes down to one of the last issues that Ms. Gorelick raised with us, is whether when there was proof that al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were connected with the USS Cole, the threat having been made, why there was not a response at that time.
GORTON: I'm asking this question. This question relates to an invasion of Afghanistan to depose the Taliban and disperse al Qaeda.
ALBRIGHT: I do think -- this is my personal opinion -- that it would be very hard pre-9/11 to have persuaded anybody that an invasion of Afghanistan was appropriate. I think it did take the megashock, unfortunately, of 9/11 to make people understand the considerable threat.
Plus there was not a staging area in Pakistan and the variety of problems that we faced, I do think that this administration faced also.
GORTON: And pre-9/11, the only military response to any al Qaeda attack, whether successful or one of the many that you said was frustrated during your period of time -- the only military response was the response in the immediate aftermath of the embassy bombing. And while many other potential covert or cruise missile kinds of responses were considered, all ran up against an objection that the intelligence wasn't actionable, that you didn't know -- there was no appropriate target, or that there would be collateral damage. So every such suggestion was frustrated and came to naught before 9/11; is that not correct?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I have no way of judging what happened inside the Bush administration from January to September.
GORTON: Well, you do know that nothing happened.
ALBRIGHT: Well, I do know that, but I also do know that many of the policy issues that we had developed were not followed up. And I have to say, with great sad sadness, to watch an incoming administration, kind of, take apart a lot of the policies that we did have, whether it had to do with North Korea or the Balkans, was difficult.
So I think you have to ask people that were in the Bush administration as to how they saw things on this particular issue.
But I do think, in all fairness, that 9/11 was a cataclysmic event that changed things and that they must have had similar reactions.
But clearly there are many issues and many questions now about how they were responding to the terrorist threat and how seriously they took it. You are going to have some other witnesses here who will be more capable of responding to that question than I because I know nothing beyond what I read.
ALBRIGHT: I don't believe that actually.
I think that if you look at what we were doing, we were on an upward trajectory of ramping up our dealing with terrorist activities, whether it was putting the infrastructure into place that the Bush administration is using on tracking finances, on trying to get more money into the CIA, of developing counterterrorism centers and activities. So I think, no.
I mean, it's hard for me to get inside the head of al Qaeda, but no, I do not think they must have thought it was cost-free.
GORTON: Well, there we certainly disagree.
I guess my time is up.
Last question for this panel from Governor Thompson.
THOMPSON: Madam Secretary, thank you for being here today and thank you for your service to our country.
I must say that I am impressed with not only your record, but the record of the Clinton administration, in its efforts to pursue and stop al Qaeda, to provide appropriate responses on behalf of our country and for the vigor and determination with which your administration acted in these affairs during the time that you were in office.
But I'd like to turn to a subject that everybody else in Washington is talking about, so we might as well recognize the elephant in the room.
ALBRIGHT: So to speak.
THOMPSON: Understanding, as I do, all the things that your administration did, I'm perplexed that even though you followed many of Mr. Clarke's suggestions -- whether it was frequent principals' meetings, frequent meetings of the small group, pressure on the Saudis, pressure on the Pakistanis, preparation of the Predator for military action, going after financing, issuing demarches, all of that -- and where you didn't follow his advice, you had reasonable and logical explanations for it, some of which you've talked about today and some of which you've talked about in your written testimony.
For example, not providing military aid to the Northern Alliance or putting boots on the ground in Afghanistan.
And it's really hard for me to see how criticism can be leveled against the Bush administration, which was brand new and had only seven months to try and look at, and in many cases, continue the policy of the Clinton administration toward al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. This was not one of those things they blew up like the Balkans or North Korea.
Is that a fair conclusion?
ALBRIGHT: I think that fighting terrorism is a very difficult job, and it is clear from our experience of eight years, I think it's very hard to find Osama bin Laden. We had a hard time. I regret that they have not been able to find him. It is very difficult.
We are dealing with a brand-new threat in a way that spreads through these variety of groups where people are given sanctuary and where, in fact, I think there is a question in the long term how we deal with it in term of educational issues, in terms of trying to get the moderate Muslims to help us -- some of the suggestions that I made.
I think what I consider -- if I may say so -- the great value of this commission is that you are asking exactly these kinds of questions in terms of not just trying to place blame, but trying to learn lessons.
When I was first told about the mandate of this commission, that is what it is, and so -- to get answers and learn lessons without, in fact, just trying to place blame.
I do think that it is important to understand how much attention was paid to fighting terrorism in the Bush administration.
I can only talk about what we did and that is that it was constantly on our minds, that President Clinton spoke about it all the time privately in meetings to foreign leaders, as well as publicly -- that we did, in fact, create the national security system that allowed somebody like Dick Clarke in the job of being the coordinator, and that I think our record in dealing with this is one that established a variety of policies that I think were on the way toward helping us fight terrorism.
But I am not going to say that it is easy. And it is the threat of our time.
And the devil's marriage between these shady groups and the spread of weapons of mass destruction is unfortunately the problem that we are all dealing with, that we cannot deed to our children and grandchildren.
So I am very glad that this commission is looking into this because it's the lessons learned, not so much the blame placing.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you, again, for your testimony, very much. And thank you for all your public service, Secretary Albright.
ALBRIGHT: Thank you, Governor.
KEAN: And thank you, Ambassador Pickering, for being here with us.
We'll be submitting a few -- perhaps if we could, a few more questions fro the record.