Transcript: Has the Sept. 11 Commission Already Made Its Conclusions?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, April 5, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Make no mistake about it. If we had known that the enemy was going it fly airplanes into our buildings, we would have done everything in our power to stop it.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: President Bush earlier today responding to a question about his upcoming appearance — he calls it a meeting — with the 9/11 Commission. But first, the commission will hear from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) when she testifies in public on Thursday.

Richard Ben-Veniste (search) is a member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United states, also known at the 9/11 Commission. The big question today, Mr. Ben-Veniste, has the commission already made its conclusions about 9/11?


GIBSON: Well, but over the weekend I heard the two leaders of the commission saying we already think the 9/11 attacks were preventable.

BEN-VENISTE: Well, there are a lot of conclusions to make at the end of the day. We have — we have got a very broad mandate, and clearly we have received a lot of information so far. The basis of that information, I think it is not unreasonable to say that had we utilized the intelligence that we had at the time, it is certainly possible that we could have interrupted the plot.

GIBSON: Are you talking about the things that many of us already have heard about, the Phoenix Memo, what was going on up in Minnesota, some of the stove piping that was going on in the CIA and the FBI where they weren't sharing information, or is there something else that the rest of us don't know about?

BEN-VENISTE: Well, there were two al Qaeda operatives in the United States that our intelligence agencies knew about pre-9/11. There are also, as you mentioned, information with respect to Zacarias Moussaoui (search) who had Jihadist connections, who had been in flight school, was acting very erratically, had only flown a Piper Cub before, and yet was trying to learn how to steer commercial aircraft. There was other information coming to us that reflected a substantial possibly that the United States' homeland would be attacked in the summer.

GIBSON: I guess some of that I think we're at least marginally familiar with, but the real controversial stuff is the notion being put forward by some that there was information on the desk of either the national security adviser or the president that had it been correctly computed, had they looked at it carefully and weighed it as they should have, would have known an attack is coming. Is there such information?

BEN-VENISTE: The real question is what were the priorities? What information was made available to the president? What information did he call for once we knew that we had received an unprecedented threat level starting in the summer of 2001? What did we then do about it? What steps were taken to coordinate our intelligence and law enforcement agencies? Of course, that's an issue that we still have an open mind about, and where Dr. Rice can provide useful information. There are obviously discrepancies between what she has said before and actually things that she has said — and what other people have said. There are internal inconsistencies as well.

GIBSON: Let's assume you get the first question for Condoleezza Rice. How would you open up?

BEN-VENISTE: You'll have to tune in.

GIBSON: I am going to tune in. You can bet on that.

BEN-VENISTE: I hope I'll get the first question. I think the first questions are going to be asked by our chair and vice chair. And then, perhaps they'll get around to me and, you know, I'll do the best I can.

GIBSON: As you have had a long history of doing. Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the 9/11 Commission and a long history in Washington. Mr. Ben-Veniste, good to talk to you. Thanks for coming on.

BEN-VENISTE: Thank you very much, John.

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