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Saturday, 18 May, 2002, 05:42 GMT 06:42 UK
Terror warnings row deepens
George W Bush: Attacked Democrats "second guessing"
The political controversy in the United States over accusations that the Bush administration failed to act on intelligence reports before the 11 September attacks is intensifying.

President George Bush on Friday made his first personal statement on the issue, saying he "would have done everything in his power to stop the attacks if he had known in advance".

Suicide bombers could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the CIA or the White House

September 1999 intelligence report
But the Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle, dismissed Mr Bush's defence, accusing him of missing the point.

"I think the question is, why didn't he know? If the information was made available, why was he kept in the dark?" the Democrat politician said.

His comments came as it was revealed that two years before the 11 September attacks, an analysis prepared for US intelligence warned that Osama bin Laden's terrorists could hijack an airliner and fly it into government buildings.

"Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaeda's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House," the September 1999 report said.

No alarm

The Bush administration has asserted that no-one in government had envisioned a suicide hijacking before it happened.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the administration was aware of the report, which was prepared by the Library of Congress for the National Intelligence Council, which advises the president and US intelligence on emerging threats.

Our nation is not well served when the charge of partisan politics is levelled at those who simply seek information that the American people need and deserve to know

Democrat Richard Gephard
He said the document did not contain direct intelligence pointing towards a specific plot but rather included assessments about how terrorists might strike.

"What it shows is that this information that was out there did not raise enough alarm with anybody," Mr Fleischer said.

He indicated that he found the criticism of the president unacceptable.

"I think that any time anybody suggests or implies to the American people that this president had specific information that could have prevented the attacks on our country on 11 September, that crosses the lines," he said.

But the Democrat House minority leader, Richard Gephardt called for a congressional inquiry into the affair.

"Our nation is not well served when the charge of partisan politics is levelled at those who simply seek information that the American people need and deserve to know," he said.

World Trade Center
About 3,000 people died in the 11 September attacks
The White House had earlier revealed that a presidential order to topple the al-Qaeda network was prepared just before 11 September. But the proposals had not reached Mr Bush at the time of the attacks.

Information also emerged about a memo from the FBI's Phoenix office last July warning headquarters that a large number of Arabs were training at a US flight school.

"This memo was very consequential and should have been analysed at the highest levels of the intelligence community," said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein.

"Sadly it was not."

The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"This is sensitive stuff"
US President George W Bush
"My most important job is to protect America"
Richard Pearl of Bush's Defence Policy Board
"We should have begun to take action against al-Qaeda years ago"
See also:

18 May 02 | Americas
US intelligence efforts fractured
17 May 02 | Americas
Row deepens over terror warnings
17 May 02 | Americas
Terror warnings: Who knew what when?
16 May 02 | Americas
Q&A: US terror intelligence
17 May 02 | Americas
Bush seeks damage control
17 May 02 | Americas
'Ground Zero' operation nears end
16 May 02 | Americas
Bush rapped over 11 September photo
25 Sep 01 | Americas
Profile: Condoleezza Rice
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