Tue, Apr 13, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Terror memo dogs Bush


Now that it is public, a pre-Sept. 11 briefing memo on al-Qaeda has US President George W. Bush and his critics giving opposing versions of whether he should have acted more aggressively to avert the terrorist attacks.

Released late Saturday under pressure, the intelligence memo from Aug. 6, 2001, showed that Bush received reports from times as recent as May 2001 and that most of the current information focused on possible plots in the US.

"I was satisfied that some of the matters were being looked into" and had any specific intelligence pointed to threats of attacks on New York and Washington, "I would have moved mountains" to prevent it, Bush said Sunday during a visit to Fort Hood, Texas, 80km from his ranch in Crawford.

The document has "nothing about an attack on America. It talked about intentions, about somebody who hated America -- well, we knew that," he said.

The memo specifically told Bush that al-Qaeda operatives had reached American shores, had a support system in place and were engaging in "patterns of suspicious activity ... consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks."

The memo's contents are something of a surprise because for two years, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, starting with a May 2002 news conference, left the impression that the document focused on historical information and that any current threats mostly involved overseas targets.

When Rice outlined the then-classified memo's contents in 2002, she said that the ``overwhelming bulk of the evidence'' before Sept. 11 was that any terrorist attack "was likely to take place overseas."

The 500-word document mentioned two current threats: suspected al-Qaeda operatives might have cased federal buildings in New York and that, according to a phone call to a US embassy in the Middle East, a group of supporters of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was in the US to plan attacks.

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