Tags: Presidential | Briefing | Contained | Warnings | Rice | Insists

Presidential Briefing Contained No Warnings, Rice Insists

Thursday, 16 May 2002 12:00 AM

The sparse information given to President Bush mentioned no time, place or method.

In a White House briefing Thursday afternoon, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters that during June and July, intercepted "chatter" between Osama bin Laden, his associates and other terrorists groups raised concerns "that something was up ... that something was coming, but it was principally focused overseas. The areas of most concern were the Middle East, the Arabian peninsula, and Europe."

She said that specific threats dealt with G-8 summit in July, and that the intercepts had resulted in the U.S. being able to disrupt "attacks in Paris, Turkey and Rome."

During that period, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a number of Information Circulars (ICs) warning the airline industry that while "there's no specific target, no credible information of attack to U.S. aviation interests, but terror groups are known to be planning and training for hijackings and we ask you therefore to use caution."

The FBI also issued "Inlet" alerts, one dealing with the upcoming third anniversary of the embassy bombing in East Africa. The alert reiterated a message that had been in a July 2 Inlet.

"The overwhelming bulk of the evidence was that this was an attack that was likely to take place overseas," Rice said. "The State Department, the Defense Department, were on very high states of alert. The embassies were [buttoned up]. At home, people weren't thinking about the U.S., and the FBI was involved in a number of investigations of potential al-Qaeda personnel operating in the United States."

Rice then addressed the controversial presidential intelligence briefing.

"On August 6th the president received a presidential daily briefing which was not a warning briefing, but an analytic report. This analytic report, which did not have warning information in it of the kind that said they are talking about an attack against so forth or so on - it was an analytic report that talked about [bin Laden's] methods of operation, talked about what he had done historically, in 1997, in 1998."

The briefing mentioned hijacking, she said, "but hijacking in the traditional sense, and in effect 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. The blind sheik [convicted for his role in the first World Trade Center bombing] was mentioned by name even though he's not an operative of al-Qaeda but as somebody who might be bargained [for] in this way.

"I want to reiterate, it was not a warning, with no specific time, place or method mentioned, What you have seen ... was that the FAA was reacting to the same kind of generalized information about potential hijackings as a method that al-Qaeda might employ, but no specific information saying that they were planning such an attack at a particular time."

On Aug. 16 the FAA issued an IC concerned about disguised weapons. There had been "some reports that the terrorists had made breakthroughs in cell phones, key chains and pens as weapons," she said.

Asked about the so-called Phoenix warning in which an FBI agent in Arizona wrote a memo to FBI headquarters in July 2001 raising a red flag on Middle Eastern students at aviation schools, Rice said that to the best of their memories, neither she nor President Bush had ever heard of the memo, which she speculated was an intra-agency communication. The agent was said to have made a "strong connection" between the students and terrorist mastermind bin Laden.

At the White House briefing, one correspondent, ignoring Rice's assertion that there was absolutely no specific warning mentioned in the Aug. 6 intelligence briefing asked a question that visibly angered Rice:

"There are a lot of widows and widowers and family members of the victims of September 11th who are listening to this and thinking today that the government let them down," the woman said. "... there were intelligence failures. As the person who was supposed to connect the dots at the NSC, what would you like to say to them?"

Of course, the leftist media would never grill Bill Clinton about why he

Barely containing her scorn for the outrageous and uncalled-for question, Rice summed up her description of the briefing.

"This government did everything that it could in a period in which the information was very generalized, in which there was nothing specific to which to react, and had this president known of something more specific or known that a plane was going to be used as a missile, he would have acted on it.

"But the fact is this in retrospect even looks hard to put together. At the time we were looking at something very different – to the degree that hijacking was an issue, it was traditional hijacking. The threat, al-Qaeda, you know you did have the FBI actively pursuing leads and trying to run this down. You did get the disruption of attacks in Rome and Paris and in Turkey.

"But this president who takes extremely seriously the security of the United States was doing everything that he could in this period as were the rest of the public servants in the government."

Rice said that the term hijacking meant one thing before Sept. 11, and another thing after. Prior to 9-11, it meant taking over a plane, holding the passengers hostage and trying to negotiate the release of jailed terrorist colleagues of the hijackers.

After 9-11, the term meant taking over a plane and using it as a missile against a target. Earlier such an event was not even contemplated.

In raising the matter of the so-called Phoenix memo, the media and Democrats have asked how it could be possible that the president had not seen or heard of it.

This question ignores the recent record of FBI handling of memos sent by their field agents to Washington, demonstrated by the way bureau officials dealt with Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker.

The 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. After picking him up, FBI agents on the scene, alerted by French intelligence agencies that the man was a known terrorist, asked for permission to seize his computer and examine what it contained. Critics wondered at the time if the local agents had been allowed to dig into Moussaoui's activities, they might have learned enough to alert Washington of the attacks.

But the Moussaoui case is not the only instance of field agent information being flatly dismissed by bureau headquarters.

As NewsMax.com reported on Sept. 5, FBI headquarters ignored a field agent's credible report that might have prevented Clinton's shameful pardon of fugitive Marc Rich.

Here's the story as we reported it then:

"Five months before Bill Clinton left the White House in late January 2001, the FBI received a shocking tip: International fugitives Marc Rich and Pinky Green would be pardoned by the president in the waning hours of his administration. And along with the tip were detailed allegations of financial payoffs to ensure the presidential actions," wrote investigative reporter Paul Rodriquez in Insight magazine.

"At the time the FBI received this information in mid-August 2000, Rich and Green were well known to the bureau as indicted tax cheats and lavishly rich fugitives on the lam. Rich’s ex-wife was a close friend of Clinton and a big-time contributor and fundraiser for Democrats. But even to casual observers the two fugitives were not plausible candidates for presidential pardons.

"Incredibly, despite the national dustup, when news of the actual pardons broke following a late-evening notification of the Department of Justice by the White House on Jan. 19 – less than 18 hours before Clinton was to leave office – the bureau did not follow up on the confidential information it had received on the alleged pardons scheme from a previously reliable source. In fact, the bureau sat on the tipster's information until late March.

"Moreover, despite a written report sent to FBI headquarters last year by a veteran agent at a FBI field office who received the original tip, neither top FBI brass nor senior officials at DOJ, according to insiders interviewed by Insight, were informed about the then-unimaginable pardons secretly being worked on by Clinton and supporters of Rich and Green. Nor were top officials told about millions of dollars alleged to be deposited in secret bank accounts for Clinton and others identified as involved in securing the pardons."

Remember, this tip came to the bureau's attention in August 2000, a full five months before Clinton issued the pardons. Incredibly, it was ignored when it reached Washington and would have never been revealed if the veteran FBI agent in the field who sent a lengthy memo detailing the tipster's explosive allegations to FBI headquarters, had not raised a ruckus about it time and again.

Current and former FBI and Justice officials told Rodriquez that had they been aware of the field office report they would immediately have tried to block the last-minute pardons.

"You're damn right we would have been on alert to stop this!" a recently retired official told Insight. "All hell would have broken out if we had been told."

FBI headquarters seems to have become a huge black hole into which key information disappears without a trace. Is it any wonder that the president was kept in the dark about the Phoenix memo, as it now appears he was?

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The sparse information given to President Bush mentioned no time, place or method. In a White House briefing Thursday afternoon, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters that during June and July, intercepted chatter between Osama bin Laden, his...
Thursday, 16 May 2002 12:00 AM
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