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Cheney blasts September 11 critics

Vice President Cheney
Vice President Cheney  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney lashed out Wednesday at lawmakers who have questioned whether the government missed clues prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, calling their comments "despicable" and "outrageous."

"When members of Congress suggest that the president of the United States had foreknowledge of the attack on September 11th, I think that's outrageous, that is beyond the pale," Cheney said in an interview with CNN's Larry King Wednesday. "Somebody needs to say, that ain't criticism, that's a gross outrageous political attack, and it's totally uncalled for."

Few lawmakers have actually suggested President Bush knew about the September 11 attacks in advance, but numerous members of the House and Senate -- including a handful of Republicans -- have questioned whether the government failed to recognize a series of items that, collectively, could have pointed to a pending attack on the United States.

"When members of Congress suggest that the president of the United States had foreknowledge of the attack on September 11th, I think that's outrageous, that is beyond the pale." -- Vice President Dick Cheney

Among the items now receiving new scrutiny is a memo written last July by an FBI agent in Phoenix who called for a broad inquiry into what seemed to him to be a large number of Arab men taking flight lessons in the United States. The memo, written by Kenneth Williams, also raised the possibility that Osama bin Laden was involved.

"I do think the failure of the FBI to follow up on this Phoenix memo is a very, very serious matter," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which met with Williams Tuesday.

Williams was on Capitol Hill for a second day, meeting with lawmakers in closed-door sessions. Wednesday, he met with members of the House Intelligence Committee.

Some lawmakers say his memo, when considered with the August arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui -- who had aroused suspicions at a Minnesota flight school -- should have raised red flags among the nation's top law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

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Also, Philippine investigators say that in 1995 they told the FBI about a terrorist plot to hijack commercial planes and slam them into the Pentagon, the CIA headquarters and other buildings.

On August 6, President Bush received an intelligence report that cited the possibility of a plane hijacking involving bin Laden.

Some Democrats have said that briefing information should be released to congressional committees reviewing the events surrounding September 11, but Cheney took issue with that idea, as well as calls by Democratic leaders for an independent review by a commission.

"The key to our ability to defend ourselves and to take out the terrorists lies on intelligence, and we're discussing such things as the president's daily brief," Cheney said. "This is the most sensitive product, if you will, of the intelligence community."

He said that creating another commission would multiply the possibility for leaks.

Specter said he believes the president "acted properly" with the information he had, but also said the government might have missed some clues.

"If you put all those pieces together, I don't say you could have prevented September 11th, but there might have been some warning, had it been handled properly," he said.




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