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Dems, Media Attack Bush, Ignore That Clinton Was Warned of bin Laden Plot

Thursday, 16 May 2002 12:00 AM

Information given the president in a recently disclosed FBI memo was only "generalized information about hijackings" and bin Laden, spokesman Ari Fleischer said. Warnings were issued to government agencies.

"I don't think it should come as a surprise that the president did not, not, receive information about the use of airplanes as missiles by suicide bombers," he said. "This was a new kind of attack that was not foreseen."

Reports have indicated an FBI agent in Phoenix wrote a memo to FBI headquarters in July 2001 raising a red flag on Middle Eastern students at aviation schools. The agent was said to have made a "strong connection" between the students and terrorist mastermind bin Laden.

Democrats and the media establishment jumped on the reports of a vague warning and ignored the fact that the

Senate plurality leader Tom Daschle said Thursday he was "gravely concerned" that Bush might have been warned.

"It clearly raises some important questions that have to be asked and have to be answered," said Daschle, D-S.D.

Daschle, a likely contender for the Democrat presidential nomination for 2004, urged the White House "today" to release documents, a transcript of the intelligence briefing and the text of the FBI's Phoenix memo.

Daschle said reports that Bush might have known more than he has indicated until now warranted a broad investigation. However, he was silent about Clinton's role.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, another White House hopeful, said: "Was there a failure of intelligence? Did the right officials not act on the intelligence in the proper way? These are things we need to find out." Gephardt, D-Mo., made no mention of investigating Clinton's failure.

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., was quoted Thursday in the Washington Post as saying he had been told that a CIA document was given to Bush in August warning of an al-Qaeda "action" and an airliner. He, too, failed to mention the warnings Clinton received and ignored.

A check of the leftist media establishment's Web sites found that all were critical of the Bush administration but ignored Clinton's negligence.

Republicans accused the Democrats of hypocrisy and exploitation.

"Politicizing this, which is what Democrats have been doing in the last few days, is very, very low-level, underhanded use of a terrible incident, of an awful moment in our nation's history," said Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash.

"Senator Daschle's and Congressman Gephardt's effort to blow this up into a scandal is irresponsible," said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo. "Their unspoken implication is that the president knew these attacks were coming and did nothing. That is an insult to the U.S. intelligence community, to the president and the American people."

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said, "There was no threat received and no specific information ever received – in spite of the overall concern of terrorism, al-Qaeda and their interest in viewing America as a target – that they would ever convert a commercial airliner into a missile."

Fleischer, noting that threats of terrorist hijackings have existed for decades, said warnings of possible hijackings came in during all of last summer, beginning in May. Heightened security precautions were taken by U.S. embassies and military installations and domestic agencies were also notified.

"I reiterate, the president did not receive any information of the use of airplanes as missiles by suicide bombers," Fleischer said.

Three of the 12 hijackers of three aircraft on Sept. 11 had studied at aviation schools in the United States. Zacarias Moussaoui, a 33-year-old French citizen, was arrested by the FBI in August in Minnesota after a flight school became suspicious and reported him to authorities. Moussaoui is under indictment in the Sept. 11 attacks and is awaiting trial.

Fleischer said that since the attacks there has been a better "fusion and synthesis" of information from intelligence agencies.

Congress is investigating why the United States was caught off guard on Sept. 11 when terrorists hijacked four jetliners and crashed two into the World Trade Center in New York City and one into the Pentagon. Apparently efforts by passengers aboard the fourth jetliner thwarted the hijackers' efforts to hit a third target, believed to be either the White House or Capitol, but resulted in the plane crashing in rural western Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked the Justice Department's Inspector General to investigate how the FBI handled the internal warning last summer that terrorists might be taking flight lessons in the United States. Grassley wrote Inspector General Glenn Fine that the FBI's "credibility is at risk."

Grassley asked for an investigation into how the FBI handled the July 2001 memo from the FBI's Phoenix field office recommending the bureau keep an eye on flight schools, obtain visa information on enrolled pilots and coordinate a nationwide investigation.

FBI Director Robert Mueller told a Senate panel last week that memo likely did not make it to high levels of the FBI or the CIA and that the agency should have made it a higher priority.

"This memo has emerged as one of the most significant and alarming warnings that the FBI had before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001," Grassley wrote. "It is essential that there be an outside review of this matter by your office to answer all outstanding questions, ensure accountability at the FBI and reaffirm the trust of the American people."

In a separate letter Wednesday, Grassley also called on Mueller to make the memo available to the public.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., this week also sent 19 pages of questions to Bush administration officials, mostly for Mueller, about U.S. intelligence actions before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Graham, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, is seeking a meeting with Attorney General John Ashcroft, this week if possible, to demand "cooperation with enthusiasm" instead of "cooperation out of grudging necessity" on that committee's investigation. Republicans on the committee agree with Graham.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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Information given the president in a recently disclosed FBI memo was only generalized information about hijackings and bin Laden, spokesman Ari Fleischer said. Warnings were issued to government agencies. I don't think it should come as a surprise that the president...
Thursday, 16 May 2002 12:00 AM
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