'WARNINGS OF 911 CONFIRMED AND REINFORCED - 17 MAY 2002'
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Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Bush pressured to 'come clean' on Sept 11 warnings
Senior US Democrats have demanded to know what President Bush knew and when about the danger of terrorist hijackings before September 11. Yesterday the White House admitted that the CIA had warned of a threat by terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden. Senior members of the Bush Administration have defended their actions but the Democrats want a public inquiry. The issue appears to have ended the bipartisan support Bush has received since the attacks occurred.
TIM LESTER: For eight months, Democrats have accepted if you want to criticise the President, don't mention the war.
RICHARD GEPHARDT, HOUSE DEMOCRATIC LEADER: We need to know what information was given to the White House and what they did with it and we also need to know why it's taken until now to find this information out.
TIM LESTER: In an August 6 briefing last year, the CIA warned President Bush Al Qaeda operatives might hijack American passenger jets.
CONDOLEEZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It mentioned hijacking, but hijacking in the traditional sense and in a sense said that the most important and most likely thing was that they would take over an airliner holding passengers and demand the release of one of their operatives.
TIM LESTER: To make her point, Condoleezza Rice used the word "general" or "generalised" 19 times during this briefing.
The intelligence she says was far too general to predict what would happen five weeks later.
CONDOLEEZA RICE: I think it would be very hard to characterise this as a warning.
TOM DASCHLE, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Why was it not provided to us and why was it not shared with the general public for the last eight months?
If the President's briefing was vague, there were other clues during the American summer - an FBI memo on Arabs receiving flight training and the arrest of the so-called 20th hijacker, Zaccharias Moussaoui, as well as other clues.
PHIL ANDERSON, INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: What is the vehicle, what is that would bring all those data points together?
You're talking about federal, state, local and private sector productivity.
That doesn't exist.
TIM LESTER: Until now Republicans have been keen to make an issue of this Administration's handling of last year's terror attacks.
They see the President's performance in the role of so-called wartime leader as an asset in the run to mid-term elections later this year.
Now the Bush record is murkier.
The President, who waged war on terrorists, is also the President who didn't connect the dots.
DICK CHENEY, US VICE-PRESIDENT: I've seen some developments this afternoon and this evening down in Washington that I find frankly deeply disturbing.
TIM LESTER: The Vice-President called the criticism unworthy and irresponsible in a time of war and attacked threats from Capitol Hill to upgrade inquiries into the administration and intelligence pre-September 11.
DICK CHENEY: Perhaps most important, an investigation must not interfere with the ongoing efforts to prevent the next attack because without a doubt, a very real threat of another perhaps more devastating attack still exists.
TIM LESTER: Post-September patriotism caused a surge in the President's popularity from 50 to over 90 per cent approval.
As one commentator put it, George Bush is now entering a non-teflon stage, one where pre-September intelligence revelations could damage him and the Republicans.
Tim Lester, Lateline.
19 May 2002 04:27:22pm
Relatives of victims joined Democrats in condemning Mr Bush's decision not to reveal security service warnings that the US faced a massive terrorist attack.
The White House was alerted about the danger of al-Qaeda suicide hijackings two years before the September 11 outrage - and the FBI and CIA both sounded the alarm weeks before bin Laden's men struck.
It was revealed investigators warned in 1999 that al-Qaeda terrorists might dive-bomb a hijacked airliner into buildings targeted on September 11.
DISASTER: Bush faces allegations he didn't do enough to prevent the September 11 attacks
A US federal report said: "Suicide bombers belonging to al-Qaeda'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."
The astonishing prediction follows disclosures that President Bush was briefed by the CIA on August 6 that a terror hijacking plot could be on the cards.
White House officials acknowledged yesterday that a battle plan to defeat Osama bin Laden was waiting for Bush's review on SEPTEMBER 10.
It was drawn up after intelligence going back to the mid-90s pointed to the possibility of a skyjack attack.
Last night the president was under siege as politicians and grieving relatives of September 11 victims demanded "Why didn't he let us know?"
Democrat Senator Ben Nelson said: "Most people thought we didn't have a clue. Now it appears we did. We didn't do enough with it."
Stephen Raines, whose wife Lisa died aboard the hijacked plane that hit the Pentagon, said: "It's shameful they knew as much as they did and didn't warn anyone.
"They put the business interests of airlines above the lives of citizens."
Desperate to deflect criticism of being caught napping, Bush said last night: "Had I known 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.
"I take my job as Commander in Chief very seriously."
The 1999 forecast was prepared by US terror expert Rex Hudson, of the Federal Research Division, for the National Intelligence Council. The NIC, made up of a dozen intelligence officers, is attached to the CIA.
Hudson's report described a suicide hijacking as possible vengeance for the 1998 US airstrike against bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan.
REALISATION: Moment Bush was told America was under attack
He noted that al-Qaeda-linked terrorist Ramzi Yousef - arrested in the Philippines in 1995 and later convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing - suggested such a mission against the CIA HQ.
The report contradicts claims by the White House that no one in government had previously imagined an attack like September 11.
Research chief Robert Worden said: "This information was out there to those who study terrorism."
Last night the White House hit back: "It wasn't intelligence suggesting we had information about a specific plan." Earlier a senior official said an "options memo" to defeat bin Laden was prepared by Bush's foreign policy team.
It was dated September 10 and sat on National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's desk for Bush's review when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were struck.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the memo recommended dismantling bin Laden's network through what later happened in Afghanistan - co-operation with the Afghans' Northern Alliance.
As fury mounted nationwide at the latest revelations Donn Marshall, whose wife Shelley died at the Pentagon, said: "It makes you wonder where the get-tough president was when he received this information.
"Why didn't they react more vigorously? The idea that American planes might be hijacked should have caused more concern, even if we didn't think they might be flown into things."
Demanding a probe Kristin Breitweiser, whose husband Ronald died in the World Trade Center, added: "I want accountability." Newspapers across the country ran headlines like "Bush knew", "Did he do enough?"and "How dumb can intelligence be?"
Opinion polls showed that almost 70 per cent of Americans thought Bush should have revealed earlier that he had a warning of a potential terror hijacking.
The White House mounted a furious rearguard action.
Vice President Dick Cheney warned Democrats "not to seek political advantage by making incendiary suggestions in a time of war."
In 1994, the French authorities foiled a plot by Algerian terrorists to fly a plane into the Eiffel Tower.
A year later Washington was told of a plot to crash a jet into the CIA headquarters. Police in the Philippines said terrorist Abdul Hakim Murad confessed to planning to hijack an aircraft, storm the cockpit and steer it into the building.
Last July FBI agents based in Phoenix, Arizona, sent a memo to Washington voicing concern at the large number of Middle Eastern student pilots at flight schools around the country.
The officials recommended an investigation should be launched but it was turned down.
Then, less than a month before September 11, Frenchman Zacarias Moussaousi - the so called "20th hijacker" - was arrested in Minnesota.
A request by the FBI to gain information from his laptop computer was denied by the justice department.
TVOTW - ICOPO
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