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Bush Defends Handling of Terrorist Threat - 2004-04-12


President Bush is continuing to defend his handling of the terrorist threat prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, but admits the U.S. intelligence community may need further reform. For the second day in a row, Mr. Bush faced questions about the classified information he received five weeks before the attacks.

That information was included in a top-secret document drafted by an intelligence agent and delivered to the president at his Texas ranch on August 6, 2001.

The memo was not even two full pages, and provided information gleaned over a period of time regarding al-Qaida activities in the United States.

Such documents are always considered confidential. But on Saturday, the White House bowed to the demands of the commission investigating the September 11 attacks. It broke with precedent and made the memo public.

Critics immediately charged this information should have served as a warning to the administration that terrorists were planning an attack on American soil. But President Bush says there was nothing in the document that indicated an attack was imminent.

?There was nothing in this report to me that said oh, by the way, we've got intelligence that says something is about to happen in America,? Mr. Bush said. ?That wasn't what this report said. The report was kind of a history of Osama's intentions. I guess that would be the best way to put it.?

Mr. Bush said he was discomforted to know that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden hated America. But he said he was encouraged to read that federal agents were investigating al-Qaida activities in the United States. He said he is sure that if they had found something specific, they would have passed it on.

?Had they found something, they would have said: Mr. President, we have found something that you need to be concerned about in your duties to protect America." That didn't happen.?

Mr. Bush spoke about the document during a brief session with reporters following talks at his Texas ranch with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He was asked if he was satisfied with the performance of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The president said he is confident that if they had any information indicating a possible attack they would have brought it to his attention. But he went on to say it might be time to consider reforms in the intelligence services, and indicated he is waiting to see if the September 11 commission has some suggestions.

?The 9/11 commission hearings are going to analyze that which went on and, hopefully bring recommendations forward to help this administration and future administrations do our solemn duty to protect the American people,? Mr. Bush said.

Former and current chiefs of both the CIA and FBI will testify before the commission this week.