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Administration looks at declassification of key memo

9/11 panel seeks public release of intelligence document



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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration indicated Thursday it would seek to declassify an intelligence memo that was the subject of heated questioning at a hearing of the 9/11 commission.

Earlier Thursday, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- as the panel is formally known -- asked the White House to declassify the August 6, 2001 daily intelligence briefing (PDB) for the president.

At Thursday's hearing, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said the title of that memo was "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

The memo was seen by members of the 9/11 commission, and the panel called on the administration to release it publicly.

A National Security Council spokesman later said the administration was looking into doing just that.

"We are actively looking at the declassification process right now to determine the possibilities of making the August 6 PDB available," said spokesman Sean McCormack.

"We have every hope that it will be declassified, every intention to declassify at this time," said McCormack, who added the White House is working with the commission to determine how to make it available to them and to the public.

In order to declassify such a document, intelligence and other agencies are consulted to ensure sources and methods would not be compromised.

But this document, about a page and a half long, said McCormack, is not a typical threat assessment.

"It is an analytical piece, it's a historical piece, a compilation of information from different parts of the government," he said.

White House officials suggest the content of the August 6 memo may be distorted because only parts are being quoted and perhaps taken out of context.

"There are questions, there has been a lot of discussion about it, a lot of people describing it, a lot of people paraphrasing it, and we want to be responsive to the commission and the American people," said McCormack.

The president's daily brief is a highly classified document given to the president and usually seen by only a select few top administration officials.

The memo was brought up frequently during Condoleezza Rice's three hours of testimony, and Rice repeatedly insisted PDB was "not a warning."

"I am asking you whether it is not the case that you learned in the PDB memo of August 6th that the FBI was saying that it had information suggesting that preparations ... were being made consistent with hijackings within the United States," said commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste. (Main story: Rice testifies before 9/11 commission)

Rice said the document focused on history, not current threats.

"The fact is that this August 6th PDB was in response to the president's questions about whether or not something might happen or something might be planned by al Qaeda inside the United States," she said. "He asked because all of the threat reporting or the threat reporting that was actionable was about the threats abroad, not about the United States."

The memo contained a "discussion" on whether al Qaeda might use hijacking to try to free a prisoner in the United States, and it said that "the FBI had full field investigations under way," she said.

"Commissioner, this was not a warning."

Ben-Veniste said, "If you are willing to declassify that document, then others can make up their minds about it."

The commission's vice chairman, Lee Hamilton, told reporters after the hearing that all 10 commissioners agree the August 6 PDB should be released.

It contains nothing that would compromise the sources and methods of U.S. intelligence, he said.

"We've been talking about it for some weeks. We'll push very hard."

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this story


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