Washington Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft received the same CIA briefing about an imminent al-Qaida strike on an American target that was given to the White House two months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The State Department's disclosure Monday that the pair were briefed within a week after then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was told about the threat on July 10, 2001, raised new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don't remember the warning.
One official who helped to prepare the briefing, which included a PowerPoint presentation, described it as a "10 on a scale of 1 to 10" that "connected the dots" in earlier intelligence reports to present a stark warning that al-Qaida, which had already killed Americans in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and East Africa, was poised to strike again.
Former CIA Director George Tenet gave the independent Sept. 11, 2001, commission the same briefing on Jan. 28, 2004, but the commission made no mention of the warning in its 428-page final report. According to three former senior intelligence officials, Tenet testified to commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste and to Philip Zelikow, the panel's executive director and the principal author of its report, who's now Rice's top adviser.
A new book by Bob Woodward of The Washington Post alleges that Rice failed to take the July 2001 warning seriously when it was delivered at a White House meeting by Tenet, Cofer Black, then the agency's chief of top counterterrorism, and a third CIA official whose identity remains protected.
Rice's deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, who became national security adviser after she became secretary of state, and Rice's top counterterrorism aide, Richard Clarke, also were present.
Woodward wrote that Tenet and Black considered the briefing the "starkest warning they had given the White House" on the threat posed by Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. But, he wrote, the pair felt as if Rice gave them "the brush-off."
Speaking to reporters late Sunday en route to the Middle East, Rice said she had no recollection of what she called "the supposed meeting."
"What I'm quite certain of, is that it was not a meeting in which I was told that there was an impending attack and I refused to respond," she said.
Ashcroft, who resigned as attorney general on Nov. 9, 2004, told the Associated Press on Monday that it was "disappointing" that he never received the briefing, either.
But on Monday evening, Rice's spokesman Sean McCormack issued a statement confirming that she'd received the CIA briefing "on or around July 10" and had asked that it be given to Ashcroft and Rumsfeld.
"The information presented in this meeting was not new, rather it was a good summary from the threat reporting from the previous several weeks," McCormack said. "After this meeting, Dr. Rice asked that this same information be briefed to Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft. That briefing took place by July 17."