White House to declassify Bin Laden intelligence

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The Independent US

The White House is to declassify an intelligence briefing given to President George Bush just over a month before the 11 September attacks, which warned about impending action by Osama bin Laden inside the US and became a focus of testimony by Condoleezza Rice to the commission investigating the attacks.

The White House is to declassify an intelligence briefing given to President George Bush just over a month before the 11 September attacks, which warned about impending action by Osama bin Laden inside the US and became a focus of testimony by Condoleezza Rice to the commission investigating the attacks.

There was little sign, meanwhile, that Thursday's three-hour presentation by Ms Rice, who is the President's National Security Adviser, had done anything to calm the furore surrounding Mr Bush's actions in the run-up to the attacks. Almost 3,000 people were killed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania in 2001.

A chorus of Democrats as well as editorials in many of the country's biggest newspapers suggested that she had failed to back up her claim that Mr Bush had paid proper heed to warnings that an attack inside the US might be coming or had given sufficient priority to terrorist concerns.

One consequence of Ms Rice's testimony has been a dramatic diversion of attention to the intelligence briefing that was delivered to Mr Bush on 6 August 2001, while he was at his Texas ranch. She admitted, under questioning, that it was titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States".

Responding to demands from members of the independent commission that the document be made public, officials at the White House conceded late on Thursday that it would be released. The daily intelligence briefings to presidents are normally made available to a select group of people.

"We feel it's important that the American people get a chance to see it," the chairman of the commission, Thomas Kean, told reporters. Several hours later, Sean McCormack, who is a spokesman for the National Security Council, revealed that the White House had "every intention to declassify it".

Argument was still swirling over the significance of the briefing, which was characterised by Ms Rice in her testimony as being essentially historical in nature rather than constituting any kind of concrete warning with new facts. "Troubling yes," she said of the information passed to Mr Bush. "But they don't tell us when; they don't tell us where; they don't tell us who; and they don't tell us how."

In its editorial, The New York Times said Ms Rice had been "utterly unconvincing when she tried to portray al-Qa'ida as anything approaching a top concern for the White House".

For the most part, however, Ms Rice's testimony was interpreted differently by different ends of the political spectrum. The New York Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch, carried the front-page headline, "The Lady is a Champ", while the more Democrat Daily News blasted, "How Could She Not Know?"

There was little benefit of the doubt bestowed by Democrat members of Congress. "Unfortunately, we did not hear from adviser Rice three important words - 'we made mistakes'," said Senator Charles Schumer of New York, who has been involved closely with the families of those killed in the attacks.

"They should explain why, with such a glaring neon light at the top of the page, somebody didn't get the message that, 'Hey, we ought stop a vacation-like attitude and get to work'," added Senator Bob Graham of Florida, who was a co-chairman of the joint congressional committee that investigated intelligence failures leading up to the attacks.

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