- WASHINGTON (AP) - President
Bush was told by U.S. intelligence in advance of the Sept. 11 attacks that
Usama bin Laden's terrorist network might hijack American airplanes, the
White House acknowledged Wednesday night.
- But officials said the president and his advisers had
no way of knowing that suicide hijackers would use the planes as missiles,
as they did against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
- "There has been long-standing speculation, shared
with the president, about the potential of hijackings in the traditional
sense," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said. "We had
general threats involving Usama bin Laden around the world and including
in the United States."
- He said the administration, acting on the information
received last summer, notified the "appropriate agencies" that
hijackings "in the traditional sense" were possible.
- The development, first reported by CBS News, comes as
congressional investigators intensify their study of whether the government
failed to adequately respond to warnings of a suicide hijackings before
Sept. 11. It is the first direct link between Bush and intelligence gathered
before Sept. 11 about the attacks.
- Fleischer would not discuss when or how the information
was given to Bush, but a senior administration official, speaking on condition
of anonymity, said the president was made aware of the potential for hijackings
of U.S. planes during one or more routine intelligence briefings last summer.
- The CIA would not confirm what it told Bush, but the
agency said the issue of bin Laden's attempting an airline hijacking was
among a number of terrorist methods raised to U.S. government officials
at the time.
- But there was no information that suggested hijackers
would crash planes into American landmarks and there was no mention of
a date, a CIA official said.
- The information was based on intelligence obtained by
the U.S. government, the official said, without specifying.
- "I will tell you there was, of course, a general
awareness of Usama bin Laden and threats around the world, including the
United States; and if you recall, last summer we publicly alerted and gave
a warning about potential threats on the Arabian peninsula," Fleischer
- But he said Bush had never been told about the potential
for suicide hijackers steering the planes toward U.S targets.
- Still, acting on the information the government did have,
the administration "notified the appropriate agencies. I think that's
one of the reasons that we saw the people who committed the 9-11 attacks
used box cutters and plastic knives to get around America's system of protecting
against hijackers," he said.
- The Associated Press reported earlier this month that
FBI headquarters did not act on a memo last July from its Arizona office
warning there were a large number of Arabs seeking pilot, security and
airport operations training at at least one U.S. flight school and which
urged a check of all flight schools to identify more possible Middle Eastern
- A section of that classified memo also makes a passing
reference to Usama bin Laden, speculating that Al Qaeda and other such
groups could organize such flight training, officials said. The officials
said, however, that the memo offered no evidence bin Laden was behind the
students that raised the concern.
- Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., the Senate Intelligence Committee
chairman, said through a spokesman Wednesday that the revelations in the
memos marked an important discovery in Congress' investigation into why
the FBI, CIA and other U.S. agencies failed to learn of and prevent the
Sept. 11 plot.
- "It represents a failure to connect the dots,"
said Graham spokesman Paul Anderson. "This was dismissed rather lightly
at FBI headquarters."
- The FBI also has faced tough questioning about whether
it failed to act aggressively enough after arresting Zacarias Moussaoui,
a Frenchman of Moroccan descent, in August after he raised concerns by
seeking flight training at a Minnesota flight school.
- Moussaoui has emerged as the lone defendant charged in
the aftermath of the attacks, which killed more than 3,000 people in New
York, Washington and Pennsylvania. He is charged with conspiring with bin
Laden and the 19 suicide hijackers to attack Americans.
- Mueller repeatedly has said he wished the FBI had acted
more aggressively in addressing the Arizona and Minnesota leads but said
nothing the FBI possessed before Sept. 11 pointed to the multiple-airliner