- "CBS Evening News" anchorman Dan Rather accused
the Bush administration Wednesday morning of issuing an unwarranted FBI
terrorist alert to New York City yesterday primarily to distract from questions
about its handling of pre-Sept. 11 intelligence information.
- Appearing on the "Imus in the Morning" radio
show, Rather said he "believed" his network's report a week ago
that the White House received a CIA briefing before 9-11 on possible al-Qaeda
hijackings prompted the administration to issue the alert for political
- "I can believe that the president and the people
around him were surprised and peeved, to say the least," Rather contended,
"that the information got out last week with [CBS's] report that President
Bush had been briefed about some things that, in retrospect after Sept.
11, would indicate that, well, maybe somebody should have done something."
- The CBS newsman continued:
- "And I can also believe that, as with every president,
somebody's in the White House scratching their heads saying, 'How can we
change the subject.' Now, the subject has been changed, suddenly and very
effectively, from 'How is it that the FBI and the CIA didn't move on the
information they had? Where was the president briefed about what, when?'
- "The subject's been changed," Rather explained,
"from that, to suddenly one administration official after another,
and each escalating it, [issuing] a new set of warnings."
- The CBS anchor said he doubted the confluence of events
- "Maybe these two things are not connected, but surely
the people in the administration could forgive us for perhaps thinking,
well, perhaps there's some connection here."
- Prior to outlining his terrorist alert conspiracy theory,
Rather sounded dismissive about the latest warning that had Manhattan in
a virtual traffic lockdown Wednesday morning.
- "We're on some kind of alert because somebody heard
something that somebody may blow something up. [But] as a citizen, what
are we supposed to do with that information?"
- Rather also defended Democrat calls for a 9-11 investigation
into the Bush White House, saying:
- "We're not interested in just looking in the rearview
mirror so we can nail somebody, you know - 'What did you know and when
did you know it?'
- "But this is pretty important stuff," he insisted.
"Given the stories about intelligence failures that we already have
heard about, who can argue that we don't need some kind of commission ...
led by professionals that goes into how the situation with al-Qaeda was
handled before Sept. 11, what mistakes were made and what we can learn
- Rather insisted that curiosity about a possible Bush
9-11 cover-up had nothing to do with partisan politics.
- "That's not playing partisan politics. There's already
too much of that. That's trying to get information that can help us all
in the future."
- The CBS newsman also accused Attorney General John Ashcroft
of taking advantage of insider information about terrorist warnings to
fly on private jets, while the public was kept in the dark about the secret
alert, telling Imus:
- "If the attorney general is given information that
convinces him, 'Hey, I don't want to be on any commercial airliners just
now. I'm gonna take government planes everywhere.' If the attorney general
was told that ... then it raises a question. Why wasn't the public alerted?"
- "Some people probably would not have flown"
had they also received the Ashcroft warning, he complained.
- After the CBS news anchor's interview, NBC Pentagon correspondent
Jim Miklaszewski called Imus to correct the record, explaining that Ashcroft's
decision not to fly commercial aircraft last summer was prompted by threats
against his life - and had no connection whatsoever to pre-Sept. 11 intelligence