Skip to comments.White House Relents Somewhat (CBS quotes Washington Post as saying Pres. Bush was informed in 1998!)
Posted on 05/18/2002 6:03:53 PM PDT by BJClinton
The White House dug in for a protracted political battle as new details emerged about a 1999 report to U.S. intelligence that predicted terrorists might try to fly airliners into government buildings. And the FBI learned in 1996 of similar planning by terrorists, according to The New York Times.
The Times also says in its Saturday editions that the FBI had been aware for several years that Al Qaeda-linked men were training as pilots in the United States and elsewhere.
The Washington Post said Saturday that a top-secret briefing memo presented to President Bush in 1998 focused on efforts by Osama bin Laden to strike at targets in the U.S.
And the Los Angeles Times on Saturday named the Phoenix FBI agent who became suspicious about Middle Eastern men taking flying lessons in the U.S., and quotes colleagues as saying Kenneth Johnson is such a good agent that his warnings should have been heeded.
The F.B.I. knew by 1996 of a specific threat that terrorists in bin Laden's network might use a plane in a suicide attack against the headquarters of the C.I.A. or another large federal building in the Washington area, law enforcement officials acknowledged to The New York Times.
In his 1996 confession, a Pakistani terrorist, Abdul Hakim Murad, said he planned to use the training he received at flight schools in the U.S. to fly a plane into C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., or another federal building, the Times reports.
Murad, who was captured in the Philippines in 1995 and convicted in New York on charges of conspiring to blow up 12 American jumbo jets over the Pacific at the same time, received flight training at schools in New York, North Carolina, California and Texas, the Times says.
Information from that confession formed a basis for the analysis prepared for U.S. intelligence agencies in 1999 warning that bin Laden-associated terrorists could hijack a jet and fly it into government buildings such as the Pentagon, the Times adds.
But the officials told the newspaper that the FBI had discounted the possibility of a suicide attack using planes, partly because it had largely failed to draw together evidence gathered piecemeal over time that Al Qaeda pilots were training here.
Last week, the F.B.I. acknowledged the existence of a memo written last summer in which an agent in its Phoenix office (the agent identified by the Los Angeles Times as Johnson) urged his superiors to investigate Middle Eastern men who had enrolled at American flight schools and who might be connected to bin Laden, the New York Times says.
The Washington Post reports that a 1998 memo to the president was entitled, Bin Laden Determined To Strike In U.S and focused mainly on past efforts by the alleged terrorist mastermind to infiltrate the U.S. and hit targets here.
The document, known as the President's Daily Briefing, underscored that bin Laden and his followers hoped to "bring the fight to America," in part as retaliation for U.S. missile strikes on al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in 1998, the Post quotes knowledgeable sources as saying.
Mr. Bush had specifically asked for an intelligence analysis of possible al Qaeda attacks within the U.S., because most of the information presented to him over the summer about al Qaeda focused on threats against U.S. targets overseas, sources told the Post.
But one source said the White House was disappointed because the analysis lacked focus and did not present fresh intelligence.
Federal law enforcement sources told the Los Angeles Times that the FBI agent who wrote the memo warning about Islamic extremists in U.S. flight schools is a mild-mannered 10-year veteran with a gift for counterterrorism.
The Phoenix-based agent, named by the Times as Kenneth Williams, couldnt be reached for comment by the newspaper about the July 2001 warning, and FBI spokesmen in Phoenix and Washington would not confirm that Williams was the one who wrote the memo.
But his former colleagues at the FBI told the L.A. Times that Williams' knowledge of terrorism alone should have been enough for superiors to immediately act on his suspicions. "Nobody listened to him," the Times quotes one top former FBI official as saying.
In Washington, while Democrats demanded answers about possible administration missteps in handling early warning signs, the administration sought to put related criticism of Mr.Bush out of bounds.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday: I think that any time anybody suggests or implies to the American people that this president had specific information that could have prevented the attacks on our country on September 11, that crosses the lines.
But reports surfaced that two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, during the Clinton administration, an analysis prepared for U.S. intelligence warned, Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the CIA or the White House.
Until the 1999 report became public, the Bush administration had asserted that no one in government had envisioned a suicide hijacking before it happened.
Democrats suggested an expansion of inquiries into what the White House and federal law enforcement knew about possible terror attacks and when they knew it.
Our nation is not well served when the charges of `partisan politics' is leveled at those who simply seek information that the American people need and deserve to know, said House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, a Democrat from Missouri.
Democrats insisted their motive was simply to help avoid Sept. 11-like attacks in the future.
Fleischer said the administration was aware of the 1999 report prepared by the Library of Congress for the National Intelligence Council, which advises the president and U.S. intelligence on emerging threats.
He said the document did not contain direct intelligence pointing toward a specific plot, but rather included assessments about how terrorists might strike.
What it shows is that this information that was out there did not raise enough alarm with anybody, Fleischer acknowledged.
Former President Clinton, golfing Friday in Hawaii, also played down the intelligence value of the 1999 report.
That has nothing to do with intelligence, he said. All that it says is they used public sources to speculate on what bin Laden might do. Let me remind you that's why I attacked his training camp and why I asked the Pakistanis to go get him, and why we contracted with some people in Afghanistan to go get him because we thought he was dangerous.
Fleisher reprimanded Democratic members of Congress by name, but singled out a speech by Hillary Rodham Clinton on the Senate floor Thursday for particular criticism.
Mr. Bush commented on the controversy for the first time Friday, calling Washington the kind of place where second guessing has become second nature.
"Had I know that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people," Mr. Bush told U.S. Air Force Academy football team members who were visiting the White House on Friday.
CBS News Senior White House Correspondent Bob Schieffer reports that other top officials were less forthcoming. The usually talkative Attorney General John Ashcroft just stared when reporters asked him about the terror warnings. FBI Chief Robert Mueller also refused to comment.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, said the president was missing the point. I think the question is, why didn't he know? If the information was made available, why was he kept in the dark? If the president of the United States doesn't have access to this kind of information, there's something wrong with the system.
More details also surfaced revealing the White House was in the midst of plotting a strike against al-Qaida when the terrorist attacks occurred.
The White House acknowledged publicly for the first time this week that before the attacks Mr. Bush's foreign policy team had devised a strategy to dismantle Osama bin Laden's network with military and intelligence operations. The plan was finished Sept. 4, but it never got to the president's desk for approval.
A proposed presidential directive outlined an extensive CIA program to arm anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan. The plan, which later became the cornerstone of Mr. Bush's response to the attacks, was approved by the president's team Sept. 4 and was awaiting his review after a trip to Florida that began Sept. 10.
White House officials say there were vague, uncorroborated threats of hijackings in the spring and summer of 2001, but they insist there was no reason to believe terrorists would slam hijacked planes into buildings.
Democrats noted that suicide hijackings were not unthinkable before Sept. 11. There has been evidence of plots to slam planes into the Eiffel Tower, U.S. targets and even an economic summit in Genoa, Italy, attended by Mr. Bush last year.
As the administration dealt with the growing criticism, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said more terrorist attacks on America are probable.
The likelihood is - because it's not possible to defend at every place at every moment - that there will be another terrorist attack. We should just face that reality, he said.
Who do we blame?
Once more, folks:
With all due respects, the original article did not say "President Bush," but rather, "the President." They conveniently leave out Clinton's name so that the association is with Bush.
Can anyone say: "media bias????"
If it was a direct quote, didn't they know that Bush wasn't President in 1998? Didn't they know who was?
"That has nothing to do with intelligence," Mr. Clinton told the Associated Press while in Hawaii on a two-day stopover on the way to East Timor. "All that says is they used public sources to speculate on what bin Laden might do. That doesn't have anything to do with what the intelligence people, the CIA or the FBI, tell the administration."
The implications of this line of thinking are chilling. Does anyone think that a position paper on national security threats contracted by intel agencies would only use information in the public domain? These folks get high level clearances and see it all to make their threat assessments. If Clinton had ever met with his National Security team he may have understood this.
Do they mean former President Bush? Why would the then Governor Bush, who may not have even announced he was running for President have been given a top secret report? I could see his father getting one for 2 reasons, 1. The first President Bush had been President, and 2. The first President Bush had been in charge of the CIA.
Something else I noticed was a place where they talked about intelligence that indicated that Al Queada were planning on flying planes loaded with explosives into buildings somehow got turned into, Bush knew that suicide bombers were going to hijack planes and fly them into buildings. The first sentence I would have thought might mean use small planes with lots of explosives, as oppossed to hijacked planes.
Hindsight is 20/20. Until September 11th I never would have thought that the fuel from a jumbo jet would be used as a missile at a building.