Posted Thursday, May 16, 2002

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Shelby also questioned why the White House waited so long to acknowledge Bush's knowledge of the hijacking threat.

Thursday, May 16, 2002


White House: Bush Was Warned of Hijack Threat

Lawmakers Seek Hijack Report Probe


Associated Press

WASHINGTON (May 16) - Top lawmakers on Thursday pushed for tough inquiries after the White House revealed President Bush was told a month before Sept. 11 that Osama bin Laden's terrorist network might hijack American airplanes.

''Was there a failure of intelligence?'' asked House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. ''Did the right officials not act on the intelligence in the proper way? These are things we need to find out.''

Some law enforcement agencies were quietly put on alert last summer based on the information given to Bush during a regular intelligence briefing while he was on vacation at his Texas ranch the first week of August, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

But the president and U.S. intelligence did not know that suicide hijackers were plotting to use planes as missiles, as they did against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Fleischer said.

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta was told of ''long-standing concerns about possible hijackings'' during his regular intelligence briefings before Sept. 11, but ''there was never a scenario put forward that was anything like the events of 9/11,'' said department spokesman Chet Lunner. ''There was no specific, credible warning to disseminate,'' Lunner said.

David Irving comments:

THIS comes as no great surprise to those of us who have been following the developing story of the World Trade Center attacks with a properly sceptical mind. Watching George Bush's face, as he was given the news of the attack (before the impartial eye of a live television camera), in a schoolroom in Florida, I was struck by the way his eyes swiveled round to see if the red light was glowing on the camera (it was). [See too: Bush watched it on TV]

   click for picture

The look of guilt that fleeted across his face recalled to my mind the oral history report by Frances Perkins, Franklin D Roosevelt's Labor Secretary, who was by chance a witness of the moment when he received the phone call reporting the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
    "Pearl Harbor!?" he exclaimed, as though he had been expecting it somewhere else.
    She said she had only ever seen that look of profound guilt on FDR's face once before.

Radical's Diary on Sept.11, 2001

Fleischer said general information about the threats, which mentioned hijacking, was passed on to air carriers. He said it did not include specific and detailed warnings.

A spokesman for the trade group that represents the country's major airlines, Michael Wascom of the Air Transport Association, said: ''I am not aware of any warnings or notifications in advance of Sept. 11 concerning specific security threats to any of our airlines.''

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., called on Bush to release to congressional investigators ''the entire briefing that he was given'' by intelligence officials, and to release a recently revealed FBI memo from its Arizona office that warned of suspicious activity by Arabs at U.S. flight schools.

''We need to get the facts,'' Daschle said.

Gephardt said Congress needs to find out - in hearings open to the public - what Bush and other officials knew, when they knew it and what they did with the information. He hinted he might push for additional inquiries, and said they ''cannot be top secret.''

''Right now we have an inquiry that's going on in the intelligence committees,'' Gephardt said. ''It may or may not be sufficient to get all this done.''

Peppered with questions about the presidential heads-up, Fleischer sought to play down the development. He said there were long-standing concerns that Muslim extremists might carry out traditional hijackings, and that bin Laden had been a major worry for years.

''I don't think this should come as any surprise to anybody,'' he said of the warning given to Bush. ''But the president did not - not - receive information about the use of airplanes as missiles by suicide bombers. This was a new type of attack that was not foreseen.''

The development, the first direct link between Bush and intelligence gathered before Sept. 11 about the attacks, drew criticism from congressional investigators already looking into whether the government failed to adequately respond to evidence of potential attacks.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on NBC's ''Today'': ''There was a lot of information, I believe and others believe, if it had been acted on properly we may have had a different situation on Sept. 11.''

On CNN, Shelby also questioned why the White House waited so long to acknowledge Bush's knowledge of the hijacking threat. He said of the warning: ''I think it should have been acted on, but it wasn't.''

Shelby also suggested he may demand that the White House release the top-secret CIA briefing received by Bush, and the FBI memo.

A former FAA security chief, Billie Vincent, asked why, if law-enforcement agencies had been notified of a possible hijacking threat, they didn't do more to increase security.

''With that threat escalating, why was it permissible to continue to take cutting tools on airplanes?'' Vincent asked, referring to the box-cutters the Sept. 11 hijackers used.

The revelation instantly created a politically charged atmosphere in which every White House statement about pre-Sept. 11 threats was subjected to new scrutiny. Fleischer, for example, was asked by reporters hours after the attacks whether ''there had been any warnings that the president knew of.''

He replied, ''No warnings.''

Fleischer stood by the comment Thursday, saying there indeed was no warning of suicide hijackings against American landmarks.

Bush himself said in January, ''Never did we realize that the enemy was so well organized.''

White House officials said Bush was steadfast in private that CIA Director George Tenet and FBI Director Robert Mueller have done a good job overhauling their agencies to close the gaps exposed by the Sept. 11 attacks. Their jobs are not in jeopardy, officials said.

One Bush associate quoted the president as saying ''no one knew'' that bin Laden was plotting to make the leap from traditional hijackings to the highly sophisticated suicide attacks on U.S. landmarks. ''No one passed (that type of information) to me,'' Bush was quoted as saying.

Fleischer said that starting in May 2001, there had been increased threats of terrorism strikes against U.S. targets - primarily abroad - and that security was tightened at U.S. embassies and military installations.

With the threat of hijackings, there was ''a pulling together of domestic agencies to make certain that they were aware of this information.''

At least some agency officials, including Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, said Thursday that they had received no specific information about possible terrorist hijackings of airplanes before Sept. 11.

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that FBI headquarters did not act on a memo last July from its Arizona office warning there were a large number of Arabs seeking pilot, security and airport operations training at at least one U.S. flight school and which urged a check of all flight schools to identify more possible Middle Eastern students.

A section of that classified memo also makes a passing reference to bin Laden, speculating that al-Qaida and other such groups could organize such flight training, officials said.

AP-NY-05-16-02 1232EDT

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.


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