White House Declassifies Pre-9/11 Anti-terror Plan

Reuters
Reuters
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Reuters
Reuters

WASHINGTON - The White House, feeling the heat over charges that President George W. Bush failed to make terrorism an urgent priority before September 11, on Thursday released documents showing that one week before the 2001 attacks he ordered plans for military action against Al-Qaida.

Portions of a September 4, 2001, national security presidential directive were released as plans were set for national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly on April 8 before the September 11, 2001, commission.

Responding to strong political pressure from both Republicans and Democrats, the White House made an abrupt about-face on Tuesday and agreed to allow Rice to testify publicly and under oath after previously insisting she only speak to the panel privately.

A main area of questioning for Rice is expected to be claims by former U.S. counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke that Bush ignored an urgent Al-Qaida threat before the 9/11 attacks and was fixated on Iraq.

The September 4 presidential directive called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to plan for military options "against Taliban targets in Afghanistan, including leadership, command-control, air and air defense, ground forces, and logistics."

It also called for plans against Al-Qaida and "associated terrorist facilities in Afghanistan, including leadership, command-control-communications, training, and logistics facilities."

Bush's re-election strategy rests heavily on his performance in the war on terrorism and the White House is sensitive to any suggestion that he was not doing enough to try to prevent the attacks.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a visit to Berlin, told ZDF German television that the Bush administration "did as much as we could, knowing what we knew about the situation."

The White House took issue with an article in The Washington Post that said Bush, Rice and others in the top echelon of power were more concerned about missile defense than terrorism in the months before 9/11.

The Post published excerpts of a speech that Rice was to have delivered on the evening of September 11, 2001, that the newspaper said promoted missile defense as the cornerstone of the Bush administration's national security policy.

"You're talking about one speech," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "I think you need to look at the actions and concrete steps that we were taking to confront the threat of terrorism."

The White House would not reveal the entire text of the canceled speech, prompting a request from New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer that it be released.

Ivo Daalder, a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution who worked on Democratic President Bill Clinton's National Security Council, doubted the Bush administration would be able to find any public reference to Al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden by a top official in the months before September 11.

The Rice speech, he said, "is just the final cherry on the pudding proving that what these people were concerned about was not Al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden but madmen with missiles."

Questions arose in Washington about contacts between the Bush administration and Republican commissioners as they prepared to grill Clarke about his charges last week.

People close to the commission said White House counsel Alberto Gonzales had called commissioners Fred Fielding and James Thompson, who both went on to sharply criticize Clarke.

McClellan would not confirm the calls. He accused Rep. Henry Waxman, ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, of trying to "politicize" the commission's deliberations by asking the White House to detail Gonzales' conversations with the commissioners.

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