Four years ago, when the Justice Department deposed Al Gore in the Clinton fund-raising scandal, I poked fun at Gore's self-serving, hypocritical redefinitions of everyday words. Today, National Security Adviser Condi Rice resorted to similar tactics in her testimony before the 9/11 commission. Here's a glossary of her terms.
Gathering threats: Unclear perils that previous administrations irresponsibly failed to confront quickly. Example: For more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America's response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient. Historically, democratic societies have been slow to react to gathering threats, tending instead to wait to confront threats until they are too dangerous to ignore or until it is too late.
Vague threats: Unclear perils that the Bush administration understandably failed to confront quickly. Example: The threat reporting that we received in the spring and summer of 2001 was not specific as to time, nor place, nor manner of attack. … The threat reporting was frustratingly vague.
Up-to-date intelligence: The precise, useful information the administration responsibly demanded and got. Example: President Bush revived the practice of meeting with the director of Central Intelligence almost every day. … At these meetings, the president received up-to-date intelligence. … From Jan. 20 through Sept. 10, the president received at these daily meetings more than 40 briefing items on al-Qaida.
Specific threat information: The precise, useful information the administration didn't get, thereby absolving it of responsibility. Example: On Aug. 6, 2001, the president's intelligence briefing … referred to uncorroborated reporting, from 1998, that a terrorist might attempt to hijack a U.S. aircraft in an attempt to blackmail the government into releasing U.S.-held terrorists. … This briefing item was not prompted by any specific threat information.
Specific warnings: The precise, useful alerts the administration issued based on the information it got. Example: I asked Dick [Clarke] to make sure that domestic agencies were aware of the heightened threat period and were taking appropriate steps to respond. … The FAA issued at least five civil aviation security information circulars to all U.S. airlines and airport security personnel, including specific warnings about the possibility of hijacking.
Briefing: Addition to a warning, without which the warning is insufficient. Example: To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Chairman, this kind of analysis about the use of airplanes as weapons actually was never briefed to us.
Recommendation: Addition to a briefing, without which the briefing is insufficient. Example: In the memorandum that Dick Clarke sent me on Jan. 25, he mentions sleeper cells. There is no mention or recommendation of anything that needs to be done about them.
Historical: Communications that mentioned the past and were therefore irrelevant to the future. Example:The Aug. 6 PDB [president's daily briefing] …was not a particular threat report. And there was historical information in there about various aspects of al-Qaida's operations. … This was not a warning. This was a historic memo.
Analytical: Documents given to the administration that were general and therefore useless. Example: On the Aug. 6 memorandum to the president, this was not threat reporting about what was about to happen. This was an analytic piece. … Threat reporting is, "We believe that something is going to happen here and at this time, under these circumstances." This was not threat reporting. … The PDB does not say the United States is going to be attacked. It says Bin Laden would like to attack the United States."
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