SHANNON, Ireland – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she cannot recall then-CIA chief George Tenet warning her of an impending Al Qaeda attack in the United States, as a new book claims he did two months before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"What I am 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, and the idea that I would somehow have ignored that I find incomprehensible," Rice said.
"I don't know that this meeting took place, but what I really don't know, what I'm quite certain of, is that it was not a meeting in which I was told there was an impending attack and I refused to respond," Rice said.
Speaking to reporters en route to Saudi Arabia and other stops in the Middle East, Rice said she met with Tenet daily at that point, and has no memory of the wake-up call from Tenet described in the book.
"It kind of doesn't ring true that you have to shock me into something I was very involved in," Rice said.
There was near constant discussion of possible attacks overseas, and high alarm, Rice said.
The meeting between Tenet, Rice and Cofer Black of the CIA was not mentioned in the reports from several investigations of the Sept. 11 attacks, but Woodward wrote that it stood out in the minds of Tenet and Black as the "starkest warning they had given the White House" on Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his network.
Tenet asked for the meeting after receiving a disturbing briefing from Black, according to the book.
Black reportedly laid out secret intercepts and other data "showing the increasing likelihood that Al Qaeda would soon attack the United States." Tenet was so worried that he called Rice from his car and asked to see her right away, the book said.
"Tenet and Black felt they were not getting through to Rice," Woodward wrote of the session. "She was polite, but they felt the brush-off."
Rice referred to the session as "the supposed meeting" and noted that it is not part of the independent Sept. 11 Commission's report.
"I remember that George was very worried and he expressed that," Rice told reporters. "We were all very worried because the threat reporting was quite intense. The problem was that it was also quite nebulous."
Rice, who was promoted to secretary of state in Bush's second term, also said she never argued that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should be fired. The book's suggestion that Rumsfeld would not take her calls is "ludicrous," Rice said.
Rumsfeld and Rice are not close, and he is often considered her rival in administration decision making. Woodward wrote that then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card twice tried to get Bush to sack Rumsfeld and replace him with Bush family counselor James A. Baker III, and that both then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and Rice backed the plan.
Woodward interviewed Rice for his new book.
Rice's latest Middle East trip is focused on strengthening support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other moderate Arab leaders after a series of setbacks for democratic and moderate forces in the region.
Her trip includes visits to allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt and a meeting of other friendly nations that ring the Persian Gulf, before visits to Israel and the West Bank.
Rice is looking for new ways to improve Abbas' standing in his standoff with Hamas radicals trounced Abbas' secular Fatah Party in Palestinian elections in January. Abbas was elected separately and retains his position, but he has been hamstrung by the divided government and a cutoff of Western aid.
The Bush administration and Israel are increasingly convinced Hamas will crumble, and look to Abbas to capitalize. Rice may ask other countries to do more to bolster Abbas' security forces, and she hopes to breathe life into stalled agreements and talks that would help Palestinians move more freely across their borders with Israel.
Iran's nuclear ambitions will also be part of Rice's discussions, as an unofficial deadline passes this week for Iran to heed a U.N. Security Council demand to shelve disputed nuclear activities.
Rice said Sunday she may close her trip Friday with a meeting of world powers in Europe to look at what to do next. The United States wants to press for U.N. Security Council sanctions, but it is not clear she has full support from other permanent members of the council.