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Condoleezza Rice Interview With Washington Post

Interview With Peter Baker of The Washington Post

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
August 18, 2005

(1:55 p.m. EDT)

MR. BAKER: As you know, we're working on a profile of Fran Townsend.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. What a great person she is.

MR. BAKER: Well, the thrust is that she's probably the most important person you've never heard of. (Laughter.) To our readers, that is, have never heard of.


MR. BAKER: And very few people understand what an important role she plays.


MR. BAKER: So I thought we'd explore that a little bit. Now, you had a big role in hiring her; is that right?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, in fact, I hired her to come and be the deputy for counterterrorism and I didn't know her but I found her just really impressive in the discussion. And then in just talking with anybody who had worked with her, they used, from my point of view, all the right adjectives -- smart, tough, persistent -- which is important in any of those roles. She is, you know, very detail oriented, just determined -- somebody who will not let anything slip past her. And that's what I was looking for. And I was -- you know, she more than fulfilled the descriptors.

MR. BAKER: And you found her -- she had been over at the Coast Guard most recently; is that right?

SECRETARY RICE: She had. That's right. Earlier, she had been at Justice and then at the Coast Guard. But a number of people knew her that I knew. John Gordon and people like that already knew her because she was already very well known in the counterterrorism community. I just didn't know her personally.

MR. BAKER: Did you -- somebody told me that you might have also heard about her from Dick Clarke. Is that possible?

SECRETARY RICE: That's right. As I said, the counterterrorism community -- everybody knew her very well.

MR. BAKER: Right. And he recommended her as well?

SECRETARY RICE: I didn't find anybody in that community who found that a bad idea. Everybody thought Fran would be great.

MR. BAKER: Now, in her role as a coordinator, the advisor who, like you as a National Security Advisor, plays a facilitator function. How is she taking this role on -- in the terms of the review of our war on terror? She's now, I guess, overseeing this NSPD review and --

SECRETARY RICE: Right. That's right, which is a kind of step-back look at where we've been and where we're going in the war on terror. And what Fran is doing is helping, through a process by which, you know, you bring all the stakeholders to the table, all of the Departments who are involved in this, and you center around several key questions about what we have to achieve in the future.

For instance, there's been a major issue of looking ahead at how we deal more with the kind of ideological side of this war, how we win the war of ideas. So obviously State is very involved in that. Fran brings together State and Defense and others and we have discussions about it and put together a kind of action plan for the Departments. Then she monitors those -- will when they are all put together -- monitor those action plans, make sure that everybody is coordinated. The U.S. Government is a big place and if there's not someone making certain that all the Departments are pulling in the same direction, they start pulling apart pretty -- just kind of natural centrifugal forces.

MR. BAKER: Is that something that's been her vision, this idea of how do we fight beyond the military aspect of this, but how do we fight the ideological aspect of this?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is something that, you know, we have been all talking about quite a bit. But I think she has contributed a lot intellectually but also to the process of just having people grapple with that idea.

MR. BAKER: Now, one thing people say about her is that she has great influence because she is seen as speaking for the President, that she has his ear.

SECRETARY RICE: She does. She's very -- the President has enormous respect for her. She sees him every day. He turns to her as a kind of go-to person. For instance, when it came to the implementation of the WMD recommendations of the Silberman-Robb Commission, he turned to Fran and said, you know, Fran, go get this implemented. So he tends to believe she can really get things done, and so people know that.

MR. BAKER: How did that happen? How did -- she didn't know him before all this, right?

SECRETARY RICE: No, but she has worked through a lot of tough issues for him and through a lot of crises and I really think that some of everybody's respect for Fran, but particularly -- maybe also particularly for the President, when we had the issues around the pre-election threats and, you know, concerns about whether or not there were attacks being planned, and that she very much managed that whole -- you know, bringing together the intelligence and the response. And I think everybody gained just enormous respect for her during that time.

She'd also done the same thing last -- I think it was around Christmas of, I guess that would have been 2003 -- no, I'm sorry, Christmas -- where are we 2005? Yeah, it's Christmas of 2003, where we had a lot of reporting about potential attacks, and Fran was the one who really pulled the government together. So she has a reputation as a good crisis manager, as a good -- you know, as a good action officer, and I think everybody respects that.

MR. BAKER: That was when the flights were canceled coming from Europe and so forth?

SECRETARY RICE: Right, exactly. Yes. Yes.

MR. BAKER: Right. And do you remember any particular -- as you know, when we write profiles, we love anecdotes and moments and so forth. Does any particular moment or anecdote stick in your mind?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I remember when we were all scattered for Christmas, of course, and Fran was working kind of really almost 24 hours during that period. And she said to the President, "I'll call you tomorrow morning," which meant Christmas morning. And he said, "Yeah, do that." And then he -- this was just before he left for, I guess it would have been Camp David, and he turned to her and he said, "But when are you going to open your Christmas presents?" (Laughter.) Because he knows she has a little boy, you know, little boys, two little boys, and he really -- he's a real family person and so I think the thought of their mom not being there to open their Christmas presents was really distressing to him. It was really sweet.

MR. BAKER: Right. What did she answer? Do you remember?

SECRETARY RICE: She said, "Oh, don't worry. We'll find the time."

MR. BAKER: That's great. That's great. Well, thank you very much for taking the time.


MR. BAKER: I'm really, really thrilled that you took the time. It's very kind of you.

SECRETARY RICE: No, I'm glad. She is a terrific person and just really one of the really talented people in this Administration. 2005/801

Released on August 22, 2005


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