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Bush: Memo had no 'actionable intelligence'

Ben-Veniste: Briefing wasn't specific, but was a warning



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FORT HOOD, Texas (CNN) -- President Bush said Sunday that an intelligence memo he read shortly before September 11, 2001, contained no "actionable intelligence" that would have helped him to try to prevent the 9/11 attacks.

"The (August 6, 2001, memo) was no indication of a terrorist threat," Bush said during an Easter Sunday visit to Fort Hood to decorate wounded soldiers.

"There was not a time and place of an attack. It said Osama bin Laden had designs on America. Well, I knew that. What I wanted to know was, is there anything specifically going to take place in America that we needed to react to."

But a member of the independent commission investigating the September 11 attacks said Sunday the memo -- the president's daily briefing, or PDB -- should have alerted Bush to the strong possibility of such an attack.

Richard Ben-Veniste the memo and other reports and incidents made up a "substantial body of information" about Osama bin Laden's possible plans.

The briefing was headlined, "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US."

"The CIA was reminding the president -- with the headline ... 'don't just look overseas for the possibility of this spectacular event that everyone was predicting,' " Ben-Veniste told reporters.

"It certainly updates the information that bin Laden was determined to strike within the United States," said Ben-Veniste, a former prosecutor who worked on the Watergate case in the 1970s.

"It talked about sleeper cells here. It talked about terrorists coming and going out of the United States. It talked about a support system for al Qaeda within the United States."

The briefing also said that bin Laden, after U.S. missile strikes on his Afghanistan base in 1998, said he wanted to retaliate in Washington.

During the summer of 2001, an FBI agent in Phoenix, Arizona, wrote a memo about a number of young Middle Eastern men attending flight schools, possibly for terrorist purposes.

Ten days after the August 6 briefing, the FBI arrested Zacarias Moussaoui on immigration charges after he raised concerns by attending a Pan Am Airlines flight school in Minnesota.

Moussaoui, a Frenchman of Moroccan descent who is in federal custody in Virginia, is the only defendant facing prosecution in the United States in connection with the attacks.

"[The August 6 briefing] talked about how [bin Laden] planned years in advance for his operations," Ben-Veniste said.

"So if you're talking about '98 and you're talking about in the context of the most extraordinary threat environment that we had ever experienced in the United States, then this is put into context."

Ben-Veniste also took issue with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the committee Thursday that the White House had no inkling al Qaeda would use planes as missiles.

Ben-Veniste said al Qaeda had a "history of using planes as weapons."

He said he would "be surprised if Dr. Rice didn't know" about a no-fly zone in place over Genoa, Italy, for the spring 2001 G8 meeting, spurred by fears terrorists could crash planes "into the buildings where the leaders were meeting."

"In fact, there was a specific 1999 National Intelligence Council report that proposed the possibility of jihadist, al Qaeda, suicide squad members crashing explosives-laden planes into the Pentagon, the CIA and the White House," Ben-Veniste said.

Ben-Veniste's colleague on the commission, Slade Gorton, said he was concerned about reports the FBI may not have "connected the dots" on its own investigations.

The Phoenix memo and the Minnesota information reportedly went to the same agency task force.

"The most important feature [in the briefing] is the line that the FBI was conducting 70 full field investigations," Gorton said on "Fox News Sunday."

"I don't know where those 70 field investigations were. The FBI didn't put them anywhere. Nobody in Washington knew about them."

Gorton, a former Republican senator from Washington, said the most interesting bit of information from the committee's meeting with Bill Clinton were the former president's statements that the White House has little ability to give direction to the FBI.

"It seems to me, the FBI has more questions to answer than Condoleezza Rice or [former White House counterterrorism adviser] Dick Clarke or anyone we've had testify before us so far," Gorton said.

Hart, Rice talked security before attacks

Former Democratic Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado, who was co-chairman of an earlier bipartisan commission that studied national security, said Sunday that he met with Rice five days before the September 11 attacks because he was concerned that the Bush administration was not moving on his panel's call for action against al Qaeda.

The U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, created by Clinton in 1998 with congressional approval, released its final report in January 2001 and predicted "Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers."

"What this administration has done ... is to say that until someone tells us that 19 men are going to hijack four airplanes and fly them into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon at 9 a.m. on September 11, we are not accountable," Hart said on CNN's "In the Money."

Hart was co-chairman of the commission with former Republican Sen. Warren Rudman of New Hampshire.

Among the Hart-Rudman commission's proposals was one "for a new Cabinet-level National Homeland Security Agency that would combine the Federal Emergency Management Agency with several other agencies," Hart said.

The commission also called for an overhaul of the State and Defense Departments to reflect the changing security environment.

Hart said he asked for and got a meeting with Rice on September 6, 2001.

"She was a supporter of mine when I was a presidential candidate in '84 ... and has been a friend over the years," he said.

"I asked to see her in September because I didn't see any movement from the administration on our suggestions.

"She simply said, 'I'll talk to the vice president about it.' "


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