Last week, Bob Woodward released the third book in his series chronicling the presidency of George W. Bush, and its contents represent a shift from his previous two tomes, Bush at War (2001) and Plan of Attack (2004).
Woodward, assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, became a key historical figure when he and partner Carl Bernstein, working at the Post, uncovered the Watergate scandal. In State of Denial, he paints a picture of a White House that has become increasingly insular, often ignoring urgent warnings while carefully shielding the truth about the deteriorating situation in Iraq from the public and lawmakers in Washington.
"What I do is set out what's in the secret reports and what was said publicly, and there's a contradiction," Woodward says. "The president last spring was saying that the terrorists are in retreat. That means that we're winning... And the secret reports around the same time say, not only is it going to continue — the level of violence in Iraq — but it's going to get worse in May 2007. That's a disparity."
The book includes a description of a July 10, 2001, meeting between Condoleezza Rice, who was then the national security adviser, and then-CIA director George Tenet and his counterterrorism chief, Cofer Black. According to Woodward, Black and Tenet tried to warn Rice that intelligence strongly indicated that an attack from al-Qaida was imminent, though it was unclear where, how or when it would take place. Rice has denied receiving this warning.
"What I am quite certain of is that I would remember if I was told, as this account apparently says, that there was about to be an attack in the United States. And the idea that I would somehow have ignored that, I find incomprehensible," Rice said Monday.
But according to Woodward, Black later said of that meeting, "We did everything but pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head."
Woodward discusses his new book with NPR's Michelle Norris.