This is a partial transcript from "HANNITY & COLMES", July 22, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: The 9/11 commission (search) released its final report today. Now earlier, I had the chance to speak with our National Security Advisor Condoleezza RICE.
HANNITY: Dr. RICE, good to see you again. Thank you for being with us.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Nice to see you, Sean.
HANNITY: Let me — let's start with some of the words of Tom Kean (search ). He said we are safer than we were on 9/11, but we are not safe and we are faced with one of the greatest national security challenges in our long history as a country.
These are things that I've heard you say often.
RICE: I could not agree more with Chairman Kean. And let me just say that I think the 9/11 commission, under the leadership of Chairman Kean and Vice Chairman Hamilton, did the country a great favor in the way that they conducted this.
I've read some portions of the report, and I think it's going to provide us a reliable guide to look to what we might do differently.
But I could not agree more that we are safer, certainly, than we were on September 11, but that we are not yet safe. We have a lot more work to do. The war on terrorism goes on.
HANNITY: He said every expert with whom they spoke with, Dr. Rice, told them that an even greater threat of a greater magnitude will occur is not only possible but even probable.
And I think this has really been what you have been saying, and I've interviewed you now many times on this topic, and we've discussed it at length. And you have been warning people the seriousness of the threat that exists today.
RICE: Yes, it is a very serious threat. We should not be lulled into a false sense of security. We're fortunate that there has not been an attack on American soil since 9/11, but that really means nothing.
We have to remember that the terrorists only have to be right once. We have to be right 100 percent of the time. And every day we look at intelligence that shows that they're still plotting. They're still trying to hurt us. They still want to bring war to the territory of the United States.
But the president has been very clear that the only way to meet this threat is to do the things that we need to do at home, the things that my colleague, [Homeland Security Director] Tom Ridge (search ), worries about every day: hardening our port security and our airport security, being more vigilant and having our first responders ready.
But it also means fighting this war on the offense. We are never going to be able to fully just defend. And that is why the president has been so active in bringing down the Taliban in Afghanistan, in going into Iraq to remove a reliable friend of those who hate the United States. That is why the president believes this war has to be fought on the offense.
HANNITY: Yes. They also said in the report the most important failure was one of imagination. "We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat." You have actually used the words to me that they were at war with us long before we knew they were and we were at war with them.
RICE: That's absolutely right, Sean. We spent a lot of time talking about wars on terrorism and — and all of that, but we weren't on war footing in this country before September 11. There was a failure of imagination. I don't think that anyone, after 200 years in which the country had not experienced a major attack on our territory, really was ready and prepared — and I mean psychologically, mentally and therefore, institutionally — for what happened to us on September 11.
HANNITY: They also addressed the issue of the yellow cake uranium (search ) in Niger, and that of course brings up the old issue of Joe Wilson. In fact, this was a real and credible threat, correct?
RICE: The president, I think, when he said that the British report that the Iraqis were trying to acquire yellow cake, if you look at the British report on this that just came out and if you look — the Butler Report (search ) that just came out, and you look at our own Senate Intelligence Committee report, they both acknowledge that that contention was well-founded.
There was a lot of confusion about this at the time, Sean. The intelligence — the Senate intelligence report notes that there was apparently some confusion within the agency about the validity of that report.
But yes — and those who jump to say that the president was somehow trying to mislead the country, you know, really — really owe him an apology on this one. I mean, it's really pretty outrageous. This was a well-founded statement.
HANNITY: We — we saw what happened, Dr. Rice, in Spain, where there was an attack just before the election. There's been a lot of speculation and discussion in the press about the possibility that this country — and this report admits that we have areas of vulnerability — that there would be an attempt to disrupt the elections that are coming up this November.
Should we prepare for such an attack? Should there be a plan on the books that would, perhaps, postpone the election if the attack was severe enough?
RICE: We really don't believe that there is any need to contemplate postponing the elections. In fact, this country has held elections under a lot of difficult circumstances, including civil war. And so we would expect fully that the elections would go forward on time.
We do need to be vigilant about the period between now and the elections, because there is some evidence that the terrorists learned a lesson from Madrid, a lesson that we had hoped they would not take, which is that they could — they could somehow affect Democratic processes.
And so we're following this line — this plotline very closely. We are in very close contact with our allies and liaison services around the world. I've had a chance today to talk to the Mexican foreign minister. They are alert to the problem. We're doing everything that we can to make sure that if something is intended, that we do everything that we can to try and disrupt it.
HANNITY: Do you feel your administration had enough time to fix some of the inherent problems that you inherited?
RICE: I — I do — that's a very good point. I do think that there are — are problems that go back a long way and that would have had to have been addressed over a much longer period of time: airport security and issues like that.
But I think the real truth of the matter is that, as President Bush said yesterday, if President Clinton had known that this kind of attack was coming, if he had known, he, President Bush, had known, they would have moved heaven and earth to try to avoid it so that the country didn't undergo this trauma.
But again, there was a tendency to believe that we were safe behind our shores here.
When I testified before the 9/11 Commission, I started out by talking about how it's very hard for democracies to mobilize themselves to deal with threats before they fully materialize.
We knew, for instance, in World War I that the Germans had sank the Lusitania. We didn't do anything about that. There were signals prior to Pearl Harbor that there was going to be aggression against the United States. But the fact is, until it happens sometimes, the really sad and tragic fact is that you don't get the kind of mobilization of the government and the people that you need to fully respond.
HANNITY: We're going to have more with Dr. Rice coming up right after this quick break here.
HANNITY: There was a tape of Bill Clinton; he gave a speech in 2002 in February in Long Island. And in this tape he said, when the Sudanese released bin Laden he said, "He had not committed a crime so I did not bring him here." Direct quote.
He says, "I pleaded with the Saudis to take him. They could have but they thought it was a hot potato. That's how he ended up in Afghanistan. I couldn't bring him here for legal reasons. I pleaded with him to take him."
Doesn't that seem to validate the idea that the Sudan in fact, did offer us bin Laden and we passed on him and that the commission ignored that, are they not ignoring one of the most important failures of our intelligence leading up to this attack?
RICE: Well, Sean, I've seen the reports of that. I don't know the veracity of it or anything. I don't know what the circumstances were. The fact is that I'm sure that there were many times when people made decisions that at the time seemed the appropriate decision.
Going back to what we started with, this country didn't add up what was happening to us from 1993, the World Trade Center, and then really the growth of Al Qaeda through the '90s and into 2001. We really didn't add it up to say that this was an organization that we have to go after with full force.
Now, when we came to office in 2001, the president did want a more comprehensive policy that would bring together all elements of national security, that would seek to eliminate Al Qaeda. But I have to say that even we didn't fully understand how important it was to do this before this threat fully materialized.
And it's just an important lesson for today, that in the time of terrorist and dictators with ambitions and weapons of mass destruction, presidents of the United States don't have the luxury of indecisiveness. They don't have the luxury of debating forever whether or not to take action.
And in the case of Al Qaeda and Afghanistan, this president took decisive action after the attacks of September 11. And in the case of Iraq, he took decisive action against a problem that had been there for 12 years, festering, getting worse. Saddam Hussein breaking sanctions, waiting for sanctions — the rest of the sanctions to be lifted so that he could go back to his ambitions.
The real story of the September 11 Commission is, yes, we had a lot of information lying around that we weren't able to put together. But also, we lacked the imagination to see what was about to happen to us. And we can never afford to do that again.
HANNITY: No, I agree with you. I think this is the — I agree with the report and their conclusion as much as this is a severe threat and this could happen again, and perhaps even to a greater magnitude.
This leads me to one political question. And that is, you're trying — as the administration, you were in office eight months. There was an eight-year build-up in the prior administration to this attack. And yet you've taken on the threat and taken a very tough stand to find out where these terrorists are and go after those — those involved and those countries that support them.
Yet it has — the war has been politicized. Former Vice President Al Gore screaming George Bush betrayed his country. Ted Kennedy, Max Cleland repeatedly call the president a liar. Howard Dean advanced the theory that the president knew about 9/11 ahead of time and did nothing. Dennis Kucinich accused them of assassinating or targeting civilians for assassination.
How difficult — when the leaders of one party are using that type of rhetoric that have so politicized our national security, how difficult does that make your job and the president's job?
RICE: The president remains focused, and he simply doesn't listen to it. I think the American people know better. They know that this president made a very difficult decision based on the very best information that he had at the time.
They know that he made it in the context of having been the president of the United States when 3,000 Americans lost their lives in a surprise act of war against the United States. They know that he acted swiftly and decisively to take down the Taliban, which was harboring Al Qaeda.
They know that he went into Iraq to take care of a dictator who had used weapons of mass destruction, who had invaded and occupied his neighbor, who was shooting at our aircraft practically every day in the no-fly zones, who was an avowed enemy of the United States. And who, by the way, the Senate — the American Congress had voted in 1998 for regime change, because Saddam Hussein was such a great danger.
HANNITY: You know, and it's amazing, too, because then-President Clinton and even in 2003, Senator John Edwards, Senator John Kerry, both used definitive statements that he could not remain in power, because of his nuclear and chemical and biological threat that he posed to the world. So in many ways it's been politicized.
RICE: Well, I hope that we will be able — I know we're going into an election campaign, but these issues are too important. They need to be above politics. The rest of the world needs to hear the American polity say that we know what our responsibilities are, responsibility to defend the United States.
But that also means defeating these terrorists. It means spreading freedom and liberty because free and — free societies don't harbor people who hate this way. And free societies don't end up producing people who fly airplanes into buildings on clear September days.
HANNITY: All right. Dr. Rice, good to see you. Thank you as always for being with us. And we'll hopefully talk to you again soon. Thank you.
RICE: Thanks, Sean, it was great to be with you.
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