On 25th visit to Israel, former secretary of state recalls the first panicked moments of 9/11
Rice also described the first panicked minutes for the US administration on 9/11, including the moment she raised her voice to president George W. Bush.
The former secretary was speaking before a rapt audience outside Tel Aviv Sunday, during a conference on homeland security technology sponsored by Motorola Solutions. The company maintains a large research facility in Israel, said CEO Greg Brown, telling the audience of nearly 1,000 that most of the leading edge homeland security technology in use in the world today was developed in Israel.
It was 9/11 that drove this point home for the Bush administration, for which Rice was serving as national security adviser at the time. Rice told the audience in riveting detail of the first moments after the attack on the World Trade Center, recalling that she told her staff that the report of the first plane hitting the Trade Center’s North Tower was “a strange accident.” She shared that observation with Bush, who was in Florida at the time, and the president concurred.
Twenty minutes later, when the second plane hit the South Tower, there was no doubt in Rice’s mind that the US was under attack — “the first attack against civilians on US territory since the [Anglo-American] War of 1812.”
With the White House in panic mode, Rice quickly convened a meeting with staffers, and attempted to get in touch with top officials. “I called [secretary of state Colin] Powell but he was in Peru, so I couldn’t reach him. I called [CIA director] George Tenet but he had already been taken to a bunker. I called [secretary of defense] Don Rumsfeld, and they told me that his phone just kept ringing, with no answer.
“Then I saw on TV a plane hit the Pentagon,” Rice continued. “Just then I was able to get in touch with President Bush, and I did something that I had never done before, and would never do again. I raised my voice to the president of the United States. He told me that he was going to get on a plane and come home,” Rice recounted, adding that she practically yelled at Bush, urging him to stay put in Florida. “I told him that we are under attack, and that buildings were being hit all over Washington.”
It was a “moment that mattered,” Rice said, in more ways than one. First, it demonstrated how vulnerable the US really was. The attack “changed the conception of security. We were the world’s most powerful country, but we couldn’t stop a bunch of terrorists from one of the poorest countries in the world, who spent just $300,000 to mount an attack on us.”
Furthermore, the attack and its ramifications — including, Rice said, the possibility that American forces might have to shoot down civilian aircraft if it appeared that other sites, like the White House, might be hit — convinced the US that it significantly needed to ramp up security, but in a way that would have as minimal an effect on the average citizen as possible.
“We realized that Israel, our good friend, was very advanced in this area. Security has been a concern of Israel’s since the day it was born.”
Israel, she added, has successfully developed many technologies and methods to fight terror and enable day-to-day life to go on, and the US turned to Israel, and companies like Motorola Solutions — much of whose technology is developed in Israel — for help.
Rice, who is now a private citizen, was in Israel as a guest of the company. Speaking earlier, Brown said that Motorola Solutions had recruited her in order to benefit from “her guidance in foreign affairs” in developing solutions for homeland security.
Israel, he said, had the manpower, the technology, and “unfortunately” the experience to prove the efficacy of the technology being developed for homeland security purposes.
This trip, Brown added, was Rice’s 25th to Israel, making Israel one of her most-visited foreign destinations. And there was another significant connection Rice had to Israel, or rather, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Secretary Rice grew up in Denver — seven houses down the street from Prime Minister Netanyahu,” who lived in the town while his father, the recently deceased Benzion Netanyahu, taught at a local university.