Rice IV Morris Jones of Sinclair Broadcast Group
Interview With Morris Jones of Sinclair Broadcast Group
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
September 8, 2006
QUESTION: You were National Security Advisor at the time. Looking back five years, what were you doing, where were you at the time of the 9/11 attacks and what went through your mind?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, at the time of the 9/11 attacks I remember this as if it were yesterday. I was standing at my desk that Tuesday morning and my assistant came in and said, "You know, a plane has hit the World Trade Center." I said, "A plane hit the World Trade Center." And at first, I thought a small plane of some kind and then he said, "No, a commercial airliner."
And I called the President and I said, "Mr. President, a plane has hit the World Trade Center." And we both had the same reaction: What a strange accident. But then a little bit later on, I was down in my staff meeting and someone came in and said a second plane had hit the World Trade Center and I thought, this is a terrorist attack. And it was only a matter of moments it seemed until then, there was a plane that had hit the Pentagon. And then there -- as always the case in circumstances like this, all kinds of false rumors that there had been a car bomb at the State Department, that there were more planes that were headed for Washington, D.C. and other places.
And they came to me and they said, "You have to go to the bunker," which I did. And those first hours of just trying to figure out were there still planes in the air that could be missiles; what had happened to the flight that went down in Pennsylvania; had it been shot down by an American fighter -- that these fighters had been ordered to scramble in order to protect the country. It was a time that don't I think, just like any American, I'll will never forget it, but --
QUESTION: Did you heart sink? How did you feel physically?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, you have to react at that moment. You have to react to the task at hand. And my first reaction was to let the world know that the United States had not been decapitated. And so I asked the then-Deputy Secretary of State to send out a cable all over the world to say the United States of America is still functioning.
QUESTION: Now, are we safer in the D.C. capital area region five years later? Are we safer?
SECRETARY RICE: I think there's no doubt that the procedures are different -- aware of the threat, a lot of efforts have been made to avoid that kind of threat. Of course we are in the D.C. capital region and in the country as a whole safer but not yet safe, because the one thing that we have to remember is that the terrorists only have to be right once. We have to be right 100 percent of the time and that's an unfair fight. And it's one reason that the President talks so insistently about staying on the offense. We are doing a lot to defend this country. My colleagues in Homeland Security, with the port security, with airport security, we have so much better now coordination on intelligence, both internationally and within the United States. But we also know that we can't fully secure the country on the defense and that's why it's important that we take the terrorists on, on their territory.
QUESTION: Now critics say a lot more has to be done to secure the D.C. capital region. Do you agree?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, obviously we want to do as much as we can. But again, in order to remain who we, are and the open country that we are, we are doing what we can. But you're going to have to defeat the terrorists on their territory, not just defend our own territory.
QUESTION: Do you think they'll try to strike here again?
SECRETARY RICE: I think there's no doubt that practically every day terrorists are planning and plotting to try to hurt the United States again. Washington is obviously a prime target, because of its symbolic meaning. But we've seen that it's not just the United States, it's Great Britain and it was Madrid and it was Bali and it was Jordan. This is a worldwide threat, a worldwide network that wants to attack nations everywhere. So we have an obligation to work with our international partners on intelligence sharing, on getting information from detainees because the real long pole in the tent for stopping the next attack is can you find out before that attack happens, and that means getting to terrorists and getting to know what they know because they know best what's being planned.
QUESTION: How worried should we still be?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, of course, we have to know that the terrorists could strike at any time, and that they may succeed. But that's not how we think about it. We go through every day, the President goes through every day, starting out with a report on his senior intelligence advisors about threats to the homeland. When there is a threat to the homeland, they're a threat of a kind that we saw just recently in the London plot. The President now has an apparatus that can really stay on top of that in follow-up information. But as I said, we're safer, but not yet safe.
QUESTION: President Clinton's defending charges that his administration was asleep at the wheel; that a lot more could have been done to catch Usama bin Laden and foreseen what was happening because so much was happening during that administration. Do you agree?
SECRETARY RICE: I think that if you look back before September 11th, this country was not prepared against the kind of global terror threat that we faced. But that goes back several administrations. This is a terrorist threat that has been brewing for a long time, and they've gotten bolder each time. They got the World Trade Center the first time in '93 and then bolder again in the attacks on our embassies in '98, and then even bolder with the attack on the Cole in 2000 and then finally with the boldest of attacks on September 11th, which finally as often happens with democracies, really mobilized us to fight this fight in the way that it needs to be fought.
And I know that there are questions about what the Administration has done in terms of making certain that we have the right information. It's why the President has defended the surveillance programs that we have. We can't have a situation again in which a terrorist in Afghanistan is talking to a terrorist inside the United States, but we can't hear both ends of the conversation. We can't have a situation again in which we're holding somebody in custody. But the intelligence agencies don't know because the law enforcement agencies are holding them. And that's the world that we all lived in prior to September 11th and it's why the Patriot Act is so important, it's why the surveillance programs are so important, it's why the detainee interrogation is so important. When the terrorists strike, they intend to kill innocent people. That's their intent. It's not collateral damage. They intend to kill innocent people. And in order to stop them, you have to know what it is they intend to do.
QUESTION: Last quick question. The argument's been made that if we're not going to fight them here; we're fighting them overseas. And the reason we're fighting them over there is so we don't have to fight them here. Many people say that's just kind of a false argument. What's your response?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is absolutely the case. We are going to do as much as we can to defend this country, but if we are going to remain the kind of country that we are -- open and welcoming -- we can't close our borders. We do have to stop them in their safe havens. We do have to stop them in the places that they hide and do their planning. We do have to have an alternative vision to their ideology of hatred that is creating the terrorists who are a threat to attack us. And so when the President says we need to fight them there, so we don't fight them here, it is a simple statement that the offense -- it's always better to be on the offense, and we're on the offense in places like Afghanistan and in Iraq. And I know it's tough going. But we, after September 11th, have no option but to make certain that we defend ourselves here, but also fight them there.
QUESTION: Good. Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.