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Schneider: Memo 'could be seriously damaging'

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider

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(CNN) -- The White House has released part of a key intelligence report on Osama Bin Laden that says the head of al Qaeda had been determined to conduct terror attacks in the United States since 1997. CNN's Carol Lin talked to senior political analyst Bill Schneider about the implications of the memo's contents.

LIN: Bill, you heard the body of the top secret memo that was just released by the White House. How damaging could this be?

SCHNEIDER: I think it could be seriously damaging. What this says is, the White House knew what bin Laden was capable of planning, where he intended to do it, which was New York or Washington, D.C., how he was going to do it. There was only one thing missing, which was exactly when he was going to do it, which turns out to be September 11.

Critics and members of the commission will say, the White House should have been far more aggressive to prevent, what sounds from this memo, like an imminent strike, obviously years in the planning, but a real danger to the United States, particularly in New York and Washington. And they will, I think, make it a cause for very severe criticism.

LIN: Does the [memo] support [former chief counterterrorism aide] Richard Clarke's criticism of President Bush that he and his administration were not taking al Qaeda seriously?

SCHNEIDER: I think it sounds exactly like Richard Clarke. I think Richard Clarke's testimony sounds almost exactly like what is in this presidential briefing. He was repeating what the president had been told on August 6. And he was urging the president to take these threats very seriously.

As I say, just about everything that happened in broad outline is in this memo, the only thing missing is that it would happen on September 11.

LIN: Do you have any idea how more specific security briefings can be with the president? I mean, given that ... every day the president hears about threats against the United States. It is impossible to act on every single document that crosses his desk. Is there an argument to be made by the White House that lots of information crosses [his] desk, [and that] not all of it is credible.

Even [CNN's] Suzanne [Malveaux] was saying a portion of this has not been corroborated. The part where [the memo says] bin Laden back in 1998 was saying that [he] wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of two extremists, is uncorroborated information as it stood in this memo.

SCHNEIDER: A couple of things. One is [that] the White House, I think, can argue and probably will argue and probably has evidence to argue that this information was uncorroborated. I think [it] can come forth with other material from briefings indicating that [it] received lots of warnings of this type and therefore it was not clear that this particular warning should be taken more seriously than others.

On the other hand, Osama bin Laden had already carried out attacks, not on the American homeland, but overseas on the USS Cole and the U.S. embassies [in Kenya and Tanzania], and he clearly was associated here, associated his organization with the attempts on Los Angeles International Airport at the millennium. So I think there are pretty clear indications that this wasn't hypothetical. This man had acted and had tried to act on the United States homeland.

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