Al Qaeda threat was on Bush memo

7.30pm


CRAWFORD, Texas - President George W. Bush's August 6, 2001, daily intelligence briefing included information from three months beforehand that al Qaeda members were trying to enter the United States for an attack with explosives, sources familiar with the document say.

The document gave neither a time nor a suspected target for such an attack, the sources said on Friday. They said the information was based on a May 2001 intelligence report that suggested followers of Osama bin Laden wanted to cross from Canada into the United States.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice has described the President's Daily Brief of August 6, 2001, as mostly a historical document. The sources said the report did include historical information citing al Qaeda's desire to attack domestic US targets dating to 1997.

Democratic members of the bipartisan commission investigating the September 11, 2001, attacks demanded on Thursday that the August 6, 2001, document be released to help them with their probe. They questioned whether Bush could have done more to stop the attacks based on the memo.

The White House is working with the CIA and other agencies to declassify the intelligence memo, a highly unusual if not unprecedented public release of secret presidential intelligence briefing documents.

White House officials refused to discuss the sensitive, page-and-a-half document in any way because it was still classified. It could be released as early as Saturday in Washington, and will likely intensify the debate over whether the September 11 attacks could have been prevented.

Parts of the document were disclosed during Rice's testimony to the commission on Thursday. It is entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside the United States."

Commissioner Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator, said it appeared the classified memo hinted at a possible hijacking.

"This is what the August 6 memo said to the president -- that the FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity, and I'd say it's consistent with preparations for hijacking," Kerrey said.

The sources familiar with the document said it advised Bush that at least 70 terrorism-related investigations were under way by the FBI in 2001.

Democratic commissioners demanded to know why the document was not seen as a warning of the attacks little more than a month later when al Qaeda hijackers crashed two airplanes into the World Trade Centre in New York, one into the Pentagon and seized another that appeared headed toward Washington but crashed in Pennsylvania.

Rice said the memo referred to uncorroborated reporting from 1998 that a terrorist might try to hijack a US aircraft and blackmail the government into releasing terrorists who participated in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing.

"This briefing item was not prompted by any specific threat information, and it did not raise the possibility that terrorists might use airplanes as missiles," Rice said.

Bush is running for re-election based in part on his response to September 11 and the White House said Kerrey was being selective about what information in the document he was putting out.

White House communications director Dan Bartlett told ABC's "Good Morning America" the CIA document "cited many things that happened back in the 1990s, instances in 1998, 1997, in 1993. This was not specific threat information about a specific hijacking plan in the United States of America."


- REUTERS

Herald Feature: September 11

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