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White House: U.S. unaware of Egypt terror warning

From Kelly Wallace
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House cast doubt Tuesday on a report of a warning from Egyptian intelligence the week before September 11 that al Qaeda was in the advance stages of carrying out a major attack against an American target.

"There is nothing I've been made aware of," said Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary.

Fleischer responded to an article in Tuesday's New York Times in which Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said his intelligence officials warned the United States about an al Qaeda plot shortly before the terrorist attacks.

"I have nothing that confirms anything in the week prior to September 11," Fleischer said, adding that the United States and Egypt exchanged intelligence information in early 2001.

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In the Times interview, Mubarak said his agents had no indication what the target would be or the scope of the attack.

Fleischer said both countries shared intelligence in early 2001 about a possible attack against the United States or Egypt.

"And we understand information from Egypt focused primarily on threats other than hijacking and threats outside the U.S.," he added.

Fleischer would not confirm a USA Today article saying that U.S. agents infiltrated al Qaeda and picked up intercepts as late as September 10.

The White House spokesman said he would not comment on U.S. intelligence matters. USA Today reported that American agents picked up an intercept with al Qaeda members saying, "Tomorrow will be a great day for us."

During a Tuesday tour of the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland, President Bush acknowledged communication breakdowns between the CIA and FBI before September 11 but added no evidence suggested the government could have prevented the attacks.

Bush also said Congress should conduct one focused investigation -- not several reviews -- so that law enforcement and intelligence officials are not distracted from their work.

"What I am concerned about is tying up valuable assets and time and possibly jeopardizing sources of intelligence," the president said.

Bush also delivered a message to Congress when asked if he is concerned about finger-pointing between the FBI and CIA.

The president said he believed the finger-pointing was from "level 3 staffers trying to protect their hides -- I don't think that's a concern. That's just Washington, D.C."

But he added, "I am concerned about distractions from this perspective: I want the Congress to investigate, but I want a committee to investigate, not multiple committees to investigate. ... I don't want to tie up our team when we are trying to fight this war on terror."

Bush's remarks came as House and Senate intelligence committees opened a joint hearing into what the government knew about the risk of a terrorist strike before September 11 and how that intelligence was shared among agencies

Critics suggest the White House is wary of several investigations and public hearings because it fears the evidence will show multiple examples of intelligence and communication failures.




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