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Important White House Document Released to 9/11 Commission - 2004-04-11

Two members of the bipartisan commission investigating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States are welcoming the president's decision to declassify a document, issued a month before the attacks. It outlines intelligence regarding a possible strike inside the United States by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

The document, declassified and approved for release Saturday, is titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.."

Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the so-called 9-11 Commission investigating the attacks, told Fox News Sunday he believes the author of the document wanted to make clear to the president that terrorist attacks were possible in the United States. "So, that is an important new piece of information, and it has to be looked at in the context of the summer of threats. There was an incredible amount of threats being accumulated by our intelligence agencies, indicating that a spectacular attack was imminent," he said.

Mr. Ben-Veniste says he is concerned that the two main U.S. intelligence agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency, were apparently not communicating with each other.

Fellow 9-11 commission member Slade Gorton singled out the FBI for criticism. Mr. Gorton said he is especially interested to see that the document declassified Saturday referred to 70 FBI field investigations into suspected Osama bin Laden-related activities. This, he added, raises many questions. "That would be sort of comforting to the person who reads it the first time around. And I don't know where those 70 full field investigations were," he said. "That's what this week's hearings of the 9-11 commission are going to be about."

Although the declassified document, drafted a month before the September 11, 2001, attacks, focused on possible terrorist activity within the United States, President Bush Sunday made clear U.S. intelligence at the time had no details of any specific attack. "Had I known that there was going to be an attack on America, I would have moved mountains to stop the attack. I would have done everything I can. My job is to protect the American people," he said.

Speaking on CNN's Late Edition Sunday, family members of victims of the attacks welcomed the release of the previously secret document.

Carie Lemack, who lost her mother, said "it's a little bit frightening, because it tells us that we do know now that (Osama) bin Laden was determined to attack inside the United States. And for two-and-a-half years, we've been told that the Bush administration was focusing its efforts on attacks abroad. Now, we see that that focus was not the right one."

Brad Blakeman, who lost his nephew, says he thinks the administration acted reasonably. "The fact is, the United States receives thousands and thousands of threats every day, and yes, things probably could have been done a little better. But, overall, I am completely satisfied [with] the way this administration has acted, prior to 9-11 and post-9-11," he said.

The release of the document Saturday comes days after National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testified publicly before the commission about the Bush administration's handling of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Her testimony followed allegations by former White House counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke, that the Bush administration did not make terrorism an urgent priority until after September 11.

This week, current and former CIA and FBI leaders are among those testifying before the 9-11 commission.