President Bush is defending himself against criticism from Congressional Democrats that he should have done more to act on warnings of terrorist hijackings before September 11. The president was told of general hijacking threats a month before the terrorist attack.
White House officials say the president's briefing last August had no specific information about where or when hijackings might take place. If anything, they indicated an attack overseas.
President Bush told Air Force cadets at the White House Friday that, had he known of the terrorist plans, he would have stopped them. "The American people know this about me and my national security team and my administration. Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people," the president insisted.
Congressional Democrats want to know why the president's team failed to assemble various intelligence reports into a clearer picture of the emerging threat.
Some Republicans and family members of those killed September 11 are also asking for more information about what the administration knew of the threats and what it did to prevent them.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the administration is cooperating with the Congressional investigation, but he warned that Democrats should not try to play politics with the issue.
Mr. Fleischer said anyone who suggests that the administration had information that could have prevented the attacks is "crossing the line," he said. "I don't think that's a fair thing to say. And, I think, the American people will be very weary of any politician who seeks to turn the sorrow of victims into their own political gain."
President Bush Friday dismissed the criticism, saying Washington is "the kind of place where second-guessing has become second-nature." He told the Air Force cadets, that he will do whatever it takes to protect the country from another terrorist attack. "We are in the midst of a war against a determined and fierce enemy," he said. "I want the troops here to know that I take my job as the Commander-in-Chief very seriously, that my most important job is to protect America and to protect our homeland. I will do whatever it takes."
Earlier Friday, Mr. Fleischer said the administration had a plan to attack Osama bin Laden before September 11, but that report did not reach the president's desk until after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Mr. Fleischer says the plan recommended that U.S. troops work with the Northern Alliance to attack Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network in Afghanistan. It is essentially the plan that was carried out after September 11.
President Bush Friday said that fight will continue. "We are in for a long struggle," the president said. "It is a tough war. This is an enemy that is not going to quit. So, therefore, in order to protect innocent lives, this country must have the will and the determination to chase these killers down one-by-one and bring them to justice. And that is exactly what is going to happen, so long as I am the President of the United States of America."
House and Senate intelligence committees are already investigating why the government failed to uncover the September 11 plot, which killed more than 3,000 people.