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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > What the Secretary Has Been Saying > 2005 Secretary Rice's Remarks > December 2005: Secretary Rice's Remarks

Interview on CNN with Wolf Blitzer

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
December 19, 2005

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thanks very much for joining us.

SECRETARY RICE: It's a pleasure to be with you, Wolf.

QUESTION: You were the National Security Advisor right after 9/11 when the President authorized this extraordinary decision to go ahead with surveillance, eavesdropping on Americans and others making international phone calls and faxes or e-mails without getting court orders. How did that decision come about?

SECRETARY RICE: The President -- first of all, let's talk about what he authorized. He authorized the National Security Agency to collect information on a limited number of people with ties to al-Qaida in order to be able to close the gap, the seam, between the domestic territory of the United States and foreign territory. One of the clear findings of the 9/11 Commission was that our intelligence agencies were looking outward, our law enforcement agencies were looking inward, and a gap had developed; we didn't know the connection between what people with terrorist ties inside the United States were doing to what people who were terrorists or might be planning terrorist operations, outside the country were doing. And so the President made that decision and he did it on the basis of his constitutional authority under Article II and other statutory authorities. I think the Attorney General spoke to those legal issues earlier.

And he did it to protect the country because these days, after September 11th, we recognized and he recognized, as the one with real responsibility for protecting the country, that if you let people commit the crime then thousands of people die. So you have to detect it before it happens.

QUESTION: But there was a mechanism -- still is a mechanism -- that's been in place since 1978, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the FISA court, to go ahead and get this kind of authority with a court warrant. Why not use that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, the FISA act, as you said -- 1978, very different circumstances imagined at the time. FISA has been principally for longer term monitoring. It has been capable of helping us when we have been principally concerned with the activities of people who might be acting on behalf of a foreign government. You can imagine that those are often longer-term matters. But the kind of agility that is needed in order to detect rather than to monitor, as the President talked about today, the President needed to draw on these other authorities, and he has.

QUESTION: But even within the FISA act there are extraordinary circumstances that would allow the wiretap, the surveillance, to begin, and then within 72 hours you could still go and get the warrant.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let's just say that these people, these networks, these shadowy networks which are not associated with countries, they are stateless, not stable targets, are pretty agile themselves. And so in order to give our intelligence agencies the kind of agility that they need in order to detect -- and I want to say once again the President has a constitutional responsibility to protect the country. That means physically. It also means to protect the civil liberties of Americans under the Constitution. And he, of course, has both responsibilities and takes both very seriously, and so that's why this was done with thorough levels of review. It has to be reauthorized every 45 days. It was briefed to Congress numerous times, or to relevant congressional officials numerous times. And so the President and his advisors felt this was the best way to give him the ability as -- under his responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief to defend the country.

QUESTION: Because you know history. You're a student of history. You know the history of the abuses of this kind of domestic spying going back to the '60s and '70s. I mean, the Supreme Court made a decision -- it was a 9 to nothing -- 1972, United States v. U.S. District Court. Lewis Powell, the Justice, wrote this: "Security surveillances are especially sensitive because of the inherent vagueness of the domestic security concept, the necessarily broad and continuing nature of intelligence gathering and the temptation to utilize such surveillances to oversee political dissent." You remember the spying on Dr. Martin Luther King and other Americans who were opposed to the war in Vietnam, and national security considerations were then justified for that kind of surveillance. And then Powell went on to say that the Fourth Amendment protects Americans -- and let me read specifically from what he wrote -- 9 to nothing decision -- "From unreasonable searches and seizures and that free -- and freedom cannot be" -- and then he said, "and that freedom cannot be properly guaranteed if domestic security surveillances are conducted solely at the discretion of the Executive Branch."

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, the President is more than aware of the civil liberties concerns and that is why this has been structured in such a very limited and controlled way with multiple layers of oversight, with lawyers of Justice and of the National Security Agency overseeing briefings to Congress. It is also why, as the Attorney General spoke to earlier, the President is drawing on existing authorities under the Constitutional statute.

We also have to note, Wolf, that it is limited in scope, limited to people who are associated with or with ties to al-Qaida.

QUESTION: How do you know these people are associated with al-Qaida?

SECRETARY RICE: Wolf, I'm not going to get into the program. But let's just remember that in 2001 we experienced what it meant to not know what conversations were going on inside the country that were connecting to terrorists plotting outside the country. We learned what that produced. And it produced the kind of devastation that we had on September the 11th. And so the President has an obligation to try and close that seam and that is what he's done with this program.

QUESTION: When you were the National Security Advisor, did you ever say, "Well, maybe we should go seek new legislation, get some new authority, go to the courts and make sure this is done so that there will be no question whatsoever that this was done properly"?

SECRETARY RICE: Wolf, this is a carefully and very deliberately considered issue for the President of how best to fulfill his responsibilities to protect the country and how best to do it legally within his constitutional and legal authorities.

QUESTION: Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said last night, "If the courts should have been involved, I want them involved. Because you are at war, it doesn't justify doing away with the process that keeps you free." Which is a statement that sort of underscores, like Senator Specter, a Republican, and others that they want to hear more justification for this because they're not yet convinced that the legal authority, as you cite in the Constitution Article II or the legislation passed right after 9/11 justify use of force in Afghanistan --

SECRETARY RICE: The President spoke to this earlier and the Attorney General, who is, after all, the highest legal authority in the country, has spoken to this. I'm not a lawyer, but I can tell you that from a policy perspective, the problem that had to be solved and that must remain solved is to be able to protect this country by detecting terrorist plots before they materialize. In this case, this is not criminal activity where you let the criminal commit the crime and then you investigate after the fact. This is not trying to understand the activities of people who might be working on behalf of foreign governments. This is trying to detect in a very rapid fashion plots against this country by not having the territory of the United States as a safe haven for conversations between people with terrorist ties here and with terrorists outside.

QUESTION: This is an extremely sensitive national security issue. It doesn't get much more sensitive than this. As a result, I'm confused why the President decided to publicly acknowledge it.

SECRETARY RICE: I think the President felt that after this very damaging leak -- and frankly, it's a very sad day when the United States reveals to the people that we are trying to follow, trying to track, trying to disrupt, how we're doing it -- and anything about how we are doing it. You know, Wolf, as the President cited earlier, we had a bead on Usama bin Laden's phone at one point, too; and when an article appeared saying that, he stopped using it, from all that we can tell. So it is a danger to the country when there are leaks of this sort.

But the President felt that given this he needed to explain it to the American people without exposing the details of the program -- and there have to be limitations in order not to expose the details of the program -- but that he needed to explain that he was using his constitutional authority to protect the country, in order to detect these plots, but also to protect their civil liberties.

QUESTION: Let's talk a little bit about Iraq. The war that's ongoing right now -- the aftermath of the elections, which by all accounts were smooth, last week, some 10 million Iraqis voted. How concerned are you, though, that the Shiites, the Kurds, the Sunnis, that at some point down the road this country could simply break apart into civil war?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there are all kinds of difficulties in a change in this historic circumstance, but everything that I see with the Iraqis is that they are going to the polls and voting to try and have a unified country in which all of their interests can be realized. Now clearly, Wolf, Iraq was drawn along the fault lines between Sunni and Shia Islam, the Kurds thrown into the mix and you have Turkomen and other groups as well, and so it's a complex political environment with many different interests.

But they now have in the constitution, a constitution which will likely and should be amended, a vehicle by which people can have their interests represented through politics and compromise rather than through violence. And this is a very important change for a country that's always done it through repression and violence. It's not going to be easy. But every indication is that the only people who really are talking about civil war are people like Zarqawi. You don't hear Iraqi leaders talking about civil war or threatening civil war. You hear them talking about how you work across sectarian lines. And while no one should underestimate the difficulty, everyone should at least give them a chance and a sense of confidence that they know that a future in which they work together is going to be one better than one in which they break apart.

QUESTION: The President last night said the U.S. and its coalition partners, friends in Iraq, were winning. Would you say at this point that the insurgency is in its last throes?

SECRETARY RICE: I would say that the insurgency has been dealt several blows, most especially when almost 70 percent of the people go out and vote and say that they intend to determine their future in that course rather than through violence. That is a blow to the insurgency because an insurgency cannot exist, cannot thrive, without the basis of popular support. And that popular support is now moving to the political arena and not to the insurgency.

That Sunnis voted in the numbers that they did is extraordinary. And I think we learned something else very important. While it is true that Sunni leaders told people to boycott the elections in January, and they did, therefore dealing themselves out of the political process, they came back in huge numbers. But we also learned that there may have been some intimidation and fear associated with the desire -- the decision of some Sunnis not to participate even in January. So I think there's a real chance now for the Iraqis to take this opportunity to build a unified and democratic state.

QUESTION: How worried should Israel be about threats from Iran and its new President?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think everybody ought to be worried about an Iranian President who says these outrageous things and then expects the world to somehow trust Iran with nuclear technologies that could lead to a nuclear weapon. That really says it all. I think that Ahmadi-Nejad has somehow crystallized the issue with these statements that he's made.

The EU-3 will continue their work to try to find a diplomatic solution. I have to say I haven't seen anything that suggests that the Iranians want a solution that would be satisfactory to the rest of the world. But it is important also not just to speak about the nuclear program but about Iranian support for terrorism, support for terrorism that undermines Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians, that undermines the Lebanese people -- as Syria has left, but Iran continues to support the violent activities of the Hezbollah -- and the kind of activity in which Iran has engaged against its neighbor in Iraq. And so we need to take a hard look at the external behavior of Iran and also at a state that is going in the wrong direction in terms of political pluralism and participation of its people.

QUESTION: How important is Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel, personally to the peace process?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, as the President said some time ago, we believe that Prime Minister Sharon is somebody with a vision for a better life for Israelis based on a two-state solution. He's taken great personal risk. He's also taken great policy risks. He's been very courageous in his decision to withdraw from the Gaza and to do it, to disengage, to do it despite a lot of criticism and a lot of skepticism. Personal courage matters and this man matters.

QUESTION: Are you getting indications his health, though, is going to be okay?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we've talked to people and to his people and they say he's doing well. And of course, we all wish him the very, very best.

QUESTION: There is apparently going to be a new president of Bolivia, Evo Morales. Evo Morales, who has said, "Long live coca, no to the Yankees. I am the United States's worst nightmare." He's aligned with Fidel Castro, with Hugo Chavez. What does this mean to the United States that a leftist socialist along these lines with outspoken rhetorical statements against the United States is apparently going to be the next president of Bolivia?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, should it be confirmed that he is indeed president, then we will do what we do with every elected government -- governor -- elected president, which is to say that we'll look to the behavior of the Bolivian government to determine the course of U.S.-Bolivian relations. We have good relations with people across the political spectrum in Latin America. The issue for us is will the new Bolivian government govern democratically? Are they open to cooperation that, in economic terms, will undoubtedly help the Bolivian people, because Bolivia cannot be isolated from the international economy? And so from our point of view, this is a matter of behavior.

QUESTION: One final question before I let you go because it keeps coming up no matter what you say. Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Rodham Clinton, 2008.

SECRETARY RICE: I just don't have a calling to do that, Wolf. And I think politics is a kind of calling.

QUESTION: So you're saying --

SECRETARY RICE: Wolf, I'm saying I don't have a calling to do this. I think there are going to be great candidates in 2008 and you know where I'd like to be in 2009 or 2010 or so. See you in New York with the NFL.

QUESTION: I'm going to break the news to you. You're not going to be the Commissioner of the NFL.

SECRETARY RICE: No? How do you know that?

QUESTION: Maybe I don't.


QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thanks very much.



Released on December 19, 2005

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