Gary Hart Warned Condi Rice Just Before 9/11

This should be big news: Gary Hart says he met with Condolezza Rice on 9/6/01 to talk about the imminent threat of terrorism.

Hart was co-chair (with former Sen. Warren Rudman) of the U.S. Commission on National Security, a bipartisan panel that conducted the most thorough investigation of U.S. security challenges since World War II. After completing the report, which warned that a devastating terrorist attack on America was imminent and called for the immediate creation of a Cabinet-level national security agency, and delivering it to President Bush on January 31, 2001, Hart and Rudman personally briefed Rice, Rumseld and Secretary of State Colin Powell. But, according to Hart, the Bush administration never followed up on the commission's urgent recommendations, even after he repeated them in a private White House meeting with Rice just days before 9/11.

Hart, who is now advising the Kerry campaign on national security issues, spoke with Salon this week about the Bush administration's failures to heed his warnings and why he feels the country is still at grave risk. Even at this late date, says Hart, Bush has failed to sufficiently coordinate federal, state, local and private sector security efforts, leaving open American ports as possible entry points for weapons of mass destruction and exposing such prime targets as petrochemical facilities located near major urban areas. ....The Bush White House, he charges, is locked in a strange and delicate dance with intelligence officials, maneuvering to place blame on the CIA but fearing if it does so too blatantly, the Bush team's own failings will be exposed.

In Hart's own words:

But as one of those fearing a near-term attack, I went out on my own throughout the spring and summer of 2001 saying, "The terrorists are coming, the terrorists are coming." One of the speeches I gave was, ironically enough, to the International Air Transportation Association in Montreal. And the Montreal newspapers headlined the story, "Hart predicts terrorist attacks on America."

By pre-arrangement I had gotten an appointment with Condi Rice the following day and had gone straight from Montreal to Washington to meet with her. And my brief message to her was, "Get going on homeland security, you don't have all the time in the world." This was on Sept. 6, 2001. ...Her response was "I'll talk to the vice president about it." And this tracks with Clarke's testimony and writing that even at this late date, nothing was being done inside the White House. ...She didn't seem to feel a terrible sense of urgency.

Then there's this zinger:

One more thing: I met with Rice not long after the president was in Crawford and being briefed by CIA officials on the possible use of aircraft against American targets. This was all happening in the weeks before 9/11. So I think it's terribly disingenuous for the president of the United States to say, "If somebody had told us they were going to use aircraft against the World Trade Center, we would of course have taken action." I think it's just ridiculous to say, "We're not going to do anything until someone tells us where, when and how."

Sen. Hart also reveals that Condi Rice supported him and helped him with foreign policy issues in his 1984 campaign.

Now the backdrop here is that I'd known Condi Rice for about 20 years. She supported me in my presidential effort in 1984. She later said she changed parties in the early '80s, but I know she was a supporter of mine in '84. She was completing her Ph.D. at the University of Denver at the time. She helped me with foreign policy in my '84 campaign.

We're glad Sen. Hart is advising John Kerry. We had the opportunity to ask him at a luncheon last August who he favored for the Democratic nomination, and he told us Kerry--this was at the time when Howard Dean was the Prince and Wesley Clark was considering getting into the race. In early October, 2003, Hart officially endorsed Kerry (see, News & Record (Greensboro, NC), Oct. 2, 2003, available on Lexis.com) :

Gary Hart, the former Colorado senator who sought the presidency twice in the 1980s, announced Tuesday he backs Democrat John Kerry's White House bid. Hart, who toyed with running for president again this year but decided against it in May, said Kerry is the best qualified in the field of 10 Democrats to be president because of his experience in foreign policy, budget negotiations and the military as a Vietnam veteran. Kerry said Hart has "a voice of consequence, of real weight" and contributes unique expertise in national security and grass-roots politics. Hart's first presidential campaign was in 1984, the same year Kerry was elected senator from Massachusetts. Kerry and Hart have known each other since the early 1970s and served together for two years until Hart left the Senate.

Kerry needs some anti-terrorism and foreign policy savvy on his team, and Hart's the one. As we said last June:

We hope that if the Democratic candidate for President is successful next year, whoever he is, that he has the sense to appoint Gary Hart as Secretary of State.

[hat tip to Dan at 5280.]

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